In a crisis, America turns to….COBOL programmers and fax machines

The coronavirus pandemic illustrates how far the federal government and states has to go to support an agile, 21st century public sector workforce.

 Information technology installed in the Social Security Department By Everett Historical Shutterstock ID 237228895
 

Social Security Department punch card sorters. (Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com)

The time has come to invest in the federal government's IT infrastructure. Over the last five years, government has taken significant steps intended to modernize federal IT, spearheaded by passage of the MGT Act in 2017 and the 21st Century IDEA in 2018. These bills and others were intended to drive IT modernization across the federal government and encourage agencies to embrace digital tools over antiquated paper-intensive processes. But despite our best efforts, we've learned over the last five weeks that more needs to be done to modernize government technology now and for the future.

This past weekend, news broke out of New Jersey that Governor Phil Mattingly was in dire need of COBOL programmers to help keep the state's four-decades old unemployment system from crashing due to the surge of claims coming as a result of the economic impact of coronavirus. New Jersey's problems are not all that different from some key federal agencies, including the IRS, which is currently faced with a need to get cash payments out to hundreds of millions of people in record time while relying heavily on outdated systems, including some that are COBOL-based.

With nearly the entire federal workforce and a vast majority of contractors forced to work from home as a result of the coronavirus, our IT infrastructure has been pushed to the limit over the last five weeks. We've all heard the stories about employees not being able to access agency virtual private networks, or looking for workarounds due to network latency because there are just too many people trying to access the network at the same time from remote connections. Needless to say, working around IT security controls runs the risk of leaving federal networks vulnerable in this time of crisis and should be avoided whenever possible. However there remains a need to balance security, with the need for people to get access to the tools necessary to do their jobs.

I was impressed with Congress's response to the telework needs of federal employees, with the recently enacted CARES Act having provided additional funding for telework, remote access and bandwidth upgrades for more than 15 agencies, including major investments at DOD and VA. This investment, while critical at this time, is likely just a down payment toward addressing the needs of remote federal workers. The coronavirus response is likely to forever change the way all of us, including federal employees and contractors work. More needs to be done to ensure that federal employees have access to the tools they need to work remotely, in a crisis and beyond.

With that said, Congress is now considering "phase 4" of their coronavirus response and thus has an opportunity to build on the down payment made in the CARES Act, setting federal and state and local information technology on a better path forward. When developing this next phase, I believe Congress must consider these three principles for IT modernization.

Support the needs of remote workers

Congress must provide federal agencies with additional funding for the acquisition of technology needed to support remote work. This should go beyond telework as it has been traditionally defined to include: IT infrastructure, adoption of cloud computing and cloud-based collaboration tools, an embrace of online training, including cybersecurity training, and the transition of in-person and paper-intensive processes to digital, allowing for better connectivity, workflows and the electronic approvals necessary to support a remote workforce.

Provide states with IT funding to enable program implementation:

What we are seeing in New Jersey is likely to be repeated across the country as it is the state governments that are charged with disbursing the vast majority of the more than $2 trillion provided by the federal government through programs like Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance. Congress must provide a mechanism by which states can use a small percentage of the funding provided to upgrade their IT systems and infrastructure.

Address cybersecurity and secure connectivity needs

No agency should have to choose between cybersecurity and connectivity. Congress must provide additional funding for the cybersecurity needs to remote federal employees, including investing to provide increased bandwidth, enhanced VPN, and cloud-based security. Expanding the capacity of and funding for FedRAMP, the gateway to secure cloud in the federal government, would also help address these needs.

Congress has a unique opportunity to make a critical investment, at a critical time to set government information technology on a strong path forward. By getting out ahead of what we now know will be a dramatic change in the way people work going forward, they can ensure we not only continue to respond effectively to the current crisis but are more prepared for the next one.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.