Modernization

Doing less with less

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

Tech modernization is a pressing need for agencies governmentwide, but in times of budget cuts and uncertainty, plans to upgrade legacy IT tend to be among the first projects taken of the table. 

And as a strategy to upgrade legacy IT and spur innovation, budget cuts are not the answer, deputy CIO of the intelligence community Jennifer Kron said at the 1105 Media Power Players conference April 5.

Modernizing IT systems "does not really save money, at least not in the short term," she said. "The real value of modernization is the improvements in mission and security."

When it comes to congressional support for IT modernization, Kron said that, in general, "if we have a fault in terms of support from the Hill, it's that they're too aggressive." So following the White House's budget blueprint that proposed steep cuts across civilian agencies, she offered some personal experience in navigating budget cuts.

"If Congress says, we really want to speed your modernization, so we'll cut your budgets for legacy," she said, "that doesn't work because when agencies receive cuts, the first thing they cut is not going to be the legacy system people are relying on today. It's going to be a future investment."

Kron cautioned that while in the past, "the threat of the budget cuts led us to push to modernize" and innovate, going down the same road may not be the most effective strategy.

"Now, if we receive budget cuts, it hurts modernization," she said.

Frank Konieczny, the chief technology officer of the U.S. Air Force, said that facing budget cuts forces agencies into "a juggling act."

"It comes down to, basically, how can I meet my mission… and what can I cut that I really don't need?" he said. "And sometimes it gets down to a bare bones issue: I don't know what I can cut anymore."

Kron said, for a federated agency, that means "the first things that get cut are anything that's community," which can adversely impact information sharing.

Kron, who worked in the Office of Management and Budget before joining the intelligence community, said that while "the threat of the budget can be compelling" when it comes to pressuring agencies to change their processes, there are other ways to effectively spur innovation.

Cutting from agencies' budgets "in the long-run doesn't work," she said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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