The Internal Revenue system is using a nearly 60-year-old computer code to process tax returns and to maintain highly sensitive taxpayer information.
You read that correctly: The IRS relies on a computer system from the 1960s — the days of the Kennedy administration — to get you your tax refund and keep your personal data secure.
The only government building that should have a computer system from the 1960s is the Museum of American History. But across the federal government, agencies continue to depend on grossly outdated information technology (IT) systems to function.
The government’s ongoing reliance on out-of-date technology comes at a time when hackers from across the globe are orchestrating ever-more sophisticated cyberattacks to target the American people. If you’re one of the millions of Americans whose sensitive information was caught up in the Yahoo!, Equifax or Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breaches, then you know how serious and complex these attacks have become.
Our obsolete federal IT infrastructure is expensive, it’s wasteful, and it’s dangerous. And fortunately, we’re finally taking action to fix it.
Last month, after lots of hard work behind the scenes and across the aisle, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas and I celebrated the enactment of our landmark, bipartisan Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act. This new law will finally bring the federal government’s IT systems into the 21st century.
Right now, the federal government spends $80 billion a year on IT — but a whopping 75 percent of that money is being spent to maintain so-called “legacy” systems that are no longer functional or up to the task. And agencies haven’t had any incentive to limit waste — or to modernize or innovate the way they work.
The MGT Act will give federal IT managers the flexibility they need to make strategic IT investments and decisions. The law will free agencies to pursue modern IT solutions like cloud computing, which can offer more flexibility, better efficiency and faster processing time than the systems we’re currently stuck with.
In addition, the MGT Act creates new flexible funding options for federal agencies to modernize their IT systems — and incentivizes agencies to eliminate waste. The law enables agencies to put the money they save every year into a working capital fund, which can then be used to pay for long-overdue technology improvements and major modernizations. And the MGT Act establishes a centralized fund that agencies can access to pay for major IT overhaul projects.
In total, the MGT Act will save taxpayers up to $20 billion a year. And as it saves taxpayer money, the MGT Act will also give federal agencies the tools they need to tackle dangerous cyber vulnerabilities and better protect Americans’ data from cyberattacks.
The bipartisan, commonsense MGT Act will ensure that we’re getting better service at a better value for the American people.
And it will help take those outdated, antique computer systems out of government offices — and put them in the history museums where they belong.
• Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee; Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
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