Transition

How will Trump tackle legacy IT?

Shutterstock image (by Robert Lucian Crusitu): microchip integrated on a motherboard. 

Even though President-elect Donald Trump has so far been light on specifics in terms of tech policy, come Jan. 20, his administration will be confronted with a government both reliant on and slowed by legacy IT.

Whether IT issues find their way to the top of his list of priorities or not, "agencies will still have the same problems this year as they did last year," ACT-IAC's Michael Howell said at an AFCEA Bethesda event Dec. 6. "They're not partisan," added Howell, who directs ACT-IAC's Institute for Innovation. "They're not going to go away. The only question is how much attention they get."

The Professional Services Council's Dave Wennergren told FCW the top IT issues facing the incoming administration are the "twin pillars of legacy IT and cybersecurity."

"The cybersecurity issue is directly related to the legacy IT issue," said Wennergren, who is PSC's executive vice president for operations and technology. "Digitizing this nation is a national imperative."

But in order to move IT – and government as a whole -- forward, he noted, the new administration must set specific plans and make sure cabinet members are willing to work across agencies. Additionally, he said the new administration must hold CIOs accountable, but also empower them rather than working around them.

Wennergren suggested that a pitch for systems upgrades could be folded in to the president-elect's infrastructure and streamlining plans.

"You have to think about cybersecurity while you do this new infrastructure effort," or else plans will fall short and get bogged down with pricey projects that lopsidedly favor contractors, he said.

Even if the Trump White House does prioritize IT modernization, he will still need the help from Congress to make better use of industry solutions, said Wennergren.

"Congress could help by focusing less on the 'gotcha' sort of thing, and more on demanding and then managing plans," he said.

According to one recent study, IT spending is more directed toward new investments and away from legacy maintenance under a unified government, with the executive branch and both chambers of Congress controlled by one party.

However, Howell said there could be limits to the kind of unity that emerges in the next administration.

"Don't assume because they all have Rs behind their names they're all happy and copacetic with the same agenda," he cautioned. "There's going to be some really interesting conflictual conversations."

Wennergren said that while President Barack Obama's tech initiatives are a good foundation for the incoming administration, there is "no way that small agencies like 18F can address the $80 billion IT budget." He added that, with an administration taking over that has advocated trimming government programs to cut costs, now is the time for civil servants to prove their programs are worth keeping.

"This is a moment you can't be sitting around," he said. "The programs most likely to fall through the cracks in the next year are those that are a long time from program inception to some kind of measurable delivery outcome."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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