House panel pushes for updates to federal IT systems amid pandemic

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — Critical coronavirus relief funds to Americans have lagged due to outdated federal computer systems.

During a hearing Monday, members of the House Oversight Committee highlighted how departments like the IRS, Small Business Administration and Department of Labor still operate on old technology that can be slow, unreliable and expensive.

“Outdated and inefficient systems put American lives as well as livelihoods at risk,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA, who chairs the Subcommittee on Government Operations. 

Connolly said the aging IT systems, often more than 30 years old, kept millions of Americans from receiving direct payments, small business loans and unemployment benefits after Congress passed the historic relief funding.

“The public policy response was there, but our IT systems often couldn’t deliver,” he said. 

Rep. Jody Hice, R-GA, told the subcommittee these systems are not only more vulnerable to cyber attacks and fraud schemes, but also more expensive to maintain.

“From 2010 to 2017, over $450 billion was spent just to keep legacy systems running,” Hice said. “That also represents $450 billion that was not able to be used for new technology.”

IT experts told lawmakers even after updates, federal departments still lag behind the latest technology.

“Federal IT isn’t held together by duct tape,” said Gordon Bitko, the SVP of policy at the Information Technology Industry Council. “But the reality is it is still too hard for them to get to the frontlines and focus on core, long-term agency challenges.”

Bitko and other witnesses who testified at the hearing said Congress should get rid of complex requirements, and ensure consistent funding and more training for new commercial technologies.

“Modernization is impossible without a highly skilled, capable workforce,” said Matthew Cornelius, the executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation.

The experts pushed for change to help recover from the current pandemic and better prepare for the next one.

Lawmakers also noted how the coronavirus crisis exposed the need for states to update their IT systems, especially when it comes to unemployment claims.

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