Death and Rebirth?

Never let a good crisis go to waste. The OPM breach – and the subsequent Cyber Sprint – may be just the jolt we need to euthanize our geriatric Fed IT. According to Tony Scott and GAO at this week’s FITARA Forum, we spend more than 80 percent of the $80 billion IT budget on operations and maintenance for legacy systems. You see with the Cyber Sprint we’ve been looking hard at how to secure our systems. And, the simple truth of the matter is – it’s impossible. It’s impossible to apply two-factor authentication to systems and applications built in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and naughties.

Cash for Clunkers…

Here’s an opportunity for real leadership – to move away from advocating for incremental change, like Cloud First, Mobile First, FDCCI, HSPD-12, TIC, etc. These approaches have clearly failed us. Now’s the time for a moon shot in government IT – a digital Interstate Highway program. I’m going to call this .usa 2020 – the idea to completely replace our aging Federal IT infrastructure by 2020. You see, IT is the highway artery system that connects America today. I’m proposing that we take inspiration from the OPM disaster – and the next cyber disaster lurking oh so inevitably around the next corner – to undertake a mainstream modernization of the Federal government’s IT infrastructure and applications. It’s not about transformation, it’s about death and rebirth.

To be clear, this is not simply about moving to the cloud. It’s about really reinventing government IT. It’s not just that our Federal IT systems are decrepit and insecure – it’s about the fact they’re dysfunctional. How can it be that the top five addresses in America received 4,900 tax refunds in 2014? How did a single address in Lithuania get 699 tax refunds? How can we have 777 supply chain systems in the Federal government?

.usa 2020

Instead of constantly patching and trying to make do, what if we built a completely new government IT infrastructure? What if we designed new applications to support a 21st century America? Let me be clear, I’m talking about getting rid of the rusting hulk of our existing IT systems. Will it cost a lot of money? Yes. But, will it have a massive multiplier effect on our economy – hell yes. Think about the economic boost that America would realize by investing in a whole new U.S. government tech system.

We’d truly see the best and brightest attracted to D.C. to engineer tomorrow’s society. Could we develop a secure government that resistant to cyber attacks and provides a model for industry and the world? Yes we could. Could we develop an agile government – that pivots to support new mission requirements? I’m going to say yes. Could we develop a more customer-centric and accountable government – a government where citizens get the benefits that they actually deserve and agencies are held accountable to real metrics? I’m going to say yes and yes.

But, let’s go further. Let’s consider the long-term impact on our economic performance. A better, more efficient government means a better and more efficient U.S. economy. An economy that flourishes, innovates, and provides engaging, good-paying jobs. FITARA’s a great platform on which to ignite this change.

Does America care about Federal IT? Only when its Snowden or OPM or Let’s use this crisis to get out of crisis mode.

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.