Labor CIO on the fight to modernize her department’s IT

Labor CIO Dawn Leaf spoke at the Future of Information Forum about her agency's struggle to escape decades-old records management systems, some of which were created by people who are no longer alive. (FedScoop)

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Entrenched in a grueling battle to modernize its antiquated IT, the Labor Department still struggles to secure funding for upgrades, according to CIO Dawn Leaf.

“We don’t have any money, and that’s not a secret,” Leaf said Tuesday at Iron Mountain’s Future of Information Forum, produced by FedScoop, while speaking about her agency’s struggle with records management. Compared to other CFO Act agencies, Labor’s spending on IT is one of the lowest, in terms of the percentage of its overall budget, she said.

“We’re like the most average example of everybody else,” she said. “We’ve got our records in our separate systems … every time we have to do a search or something, it is painful.”

Even though the Office of Management and Budget recommended a 20 percent boost in Labor’s IT budget for fiscal year 2017, Leaf isn’t hopeful that Congress will approve it. “I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon,” she said.

For the request alone, the CIO said her office had to prepare “I cannot tell you how many detailed pages of plans of how we’d spend the money if we got it in really exhaustive detail. We had a real fight inside.”

But really, the out-of-date systems spoke for themselves, and Leaf said she used the absurdity of the department’s current IT to trigger a response, recommending event attendees with similar woes to do the same.

“We had systems from [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] that were so old that they were buying parts on eBay — literally,” she said. “We had a 30-year-old system where the people who developed it were dead. We had 250 routers that were past end of life. We had tape drives doing backup.”

“Those are the facts,” Leaf added. “Usually those kinds of examples help you a little bit in getting working capital funds.”

In a rare case, the Labor CIO said she was able to persuade the secretary and deputy secretary to fund a mobile device management application for field workers using “a tiny little bit of working capital funds.” The change, she said, again caused a internal rumble.

“The agencies went berserk,” Leaf said. “It turned out to be thirteen-hundredths of 1 percent of the department’s budget. It’s not a big deal. It was a hard fought battle — but it’s working.”

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challenges, Congress, Dawn Leaf, Department of Labor, Departments, Government IT News, Innovation, Management & Budget, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Sequestration
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