The federal government spends almost 75% of its $80 billion federal IT budget on operations and maintenance of legacy systems, a new report from the Government Accountability Office found.
The watchdog report found 5,233 of the government's approximately 7,000 IT investments spent their entire budgets on operations and maintenance, without working to develop, modernize or enhance the systems.
- Data revealed in an inventory of federal legacy systems also found one agency still using floppy disk drives and another employing a computer languages developed in the 1950s.
Many of the systems are becoming "obsolete," the report said, with several using outdated software languages and hardware that is no longer supported.
Even worse, spending on legacy systems has actually increased over the last 7 years, the GAO found, which means billions of dollars that could have gone into modernizing federal IT systems were instead used to keep outdated systems running.
The Department of Defense said a legacy system it uses to coordinate nuclear forces still uses 8-inch floppy disks, while the Department of the Treasury still uses assembly language code, a computer language from the 1950s.
The proliferation of legacy systems also presents a human capital issue. The government reportedly employs more than 3,400 IT staffers who specialize in "dead" programming languages like Cobol and Fortran needed to maintain legacy systems. As those programmers move toward retirement, agencies will likely have difficulty replacing them.
The Office of Management and Budget recently launched an initiative to replace the federal government's legacy IT systems. The GAO report requests that OMB take the next step and develop a goal for its spending measure and "finalize draft guidance to identify and prioritize legacy IT needing to be modernized or replaced."
Meanwhile, Congress is considering the Information Technology Modernization Act, legislation which would authorize the use of a revolving fund to help modernize legacy federal IT systems.
"There’s been way too much spent on legacy IT," said federal CIO Tony Scott. "But the key thing we all have to understand is that all the money that's been spent has already been spent, and it's been spent on the wrong things.”