White House offers details on $3.1B IT modernization plan

Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

The White House has proposed legislation to create a $3.1 billion revolving fund for upgrading outdated federal IT systems. The proposed fund is a central piece of President Barack Obama's effort to make agencies more digitally savvy in his last months in office.

Federal CIO Tony Scott called the modernization fund "an important first step in changing the way the federal government manages its IT portfolio."

The proposal received swift backing from Democrats on Capitol Hill, with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer saying he will introduce legislation to establish the fund when lawmakers return from recess next week.

The White House proposal calls for an independent board of experts to help prioritize high-risk federal systems for replacement. The board would look for multiple legacy systems that could be replaced with a few common platforms, Scott wrote in an April 8 blog post.

It is currently hard for agencies to take advantage of those common platforms because they are "acting on their own with limited insight into other agencies' operations," he wrote.

Agencies would have to repay money drawn from the fund, so the initial $3.1 billion in proposed funding for fiscal 2017 would cover at least $12 billion in projects over 10 years, White House officials said.

IT acquisition and development officials at the General Services Administration would counsel agencies on their modernization plans so that "every investment that receives funding [would] benefit from centralized oversight and expertise," Scott wrote.

"The ITMF model has a proven track record in the private sector of reducing long-term costs," Hoyer said in a statement.

"This bill will rapidly upgrade our federal IT systems that are most in need of upgrading, either from being cybersecurity risks, inefficient or costly to maintain," he added. "It will implement the upgrades using the latest best practices from our innovation economy in Silicon Valley and all across our country."

GSA's 18F digital services unit would make sure the fund targets projects that use best practices such as shared services, cloud computing and agile development, Hoyer said.

Civilian agencies spend 71 percent -- or $36 billion -- of their IT budgets on maintaining legacy IT investments, a drain on modernization funding, Scott said.

"A comprehensive review last year of federal cybersecurity found that government relies on legacy systems, software, applications and infrastructure, which are harder to defend against sophisticated actors and less cost-effective," Scott wrote.

A spokesman for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said the congressman, a big backer of IT reform in the past, is reviewing the legislative proposal and would not be able to comment by press time.

Another IT-focused lawmaker, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), has said he supports the White House's modernization efforts but it will be up to agencies to keep their eyes on the ball. "This is going to be constantly an issue, and [agencies] need to make sure they are prepared to do that," Hurd said in February.

Michael Daniel, Obama's top cybersecurity adviser, has previously expressed confidence in Congress' willingness to support the ITMF. At a New America event in February, Daniel said cybersecurity is a bipartisan issue and predicted that there will be "very broad [congressional] support for the goals that we're trying to achieve."

The administration hopes the ITMF will put agencies on a path to permanent modernization and keep them from falling too far behind technological advancements. "Stable funding allows for long-term thinking and shorter development times, rather than costly one-off fixes," Scott wrote.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected