White House issues long-awaited IT modernization report

The White House. (Diego Cambiaso / Flickr)

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The White House’s American Technology Council and Office of American Innovation issued their long-awaited draft report Wednesday to President Donald Trump on the efforts needed to continue to modernize federal technology.

The report, required as part of the White House’s May 11 cybersecurity executive order, lays out “the current and envisioned state of Federal IT, and it provides specific recommendations to jumpstart a new wave of modernization efforts.”

“The enclosed plan incorporates the efforts of key Government stakeholders in identifying ways for the Government to enhance its cybersecurity posture, modernize the Federal IT enterprise, and create a more robust partnership between Government and industry,” the report says. “Additionally, the ATC has convened top private and public sector leaders to elicit and incorporate input on the vision for the future of Federal IT, and it intends to seek further input to ensure successful implementation of modernization recommendations.”

In a blog post about the report’s release simply titled “IT Modernization,” ATC Director Chris Liddell wrote: “We set out to accomplish two high-level objectives. First is to create a vision for the future of Federal IT that maximizes secure use of the best commercial technology available, and second is to define a plan to jumpstart the government’s transition to that vision.”

The American Technology Council coordinated with the secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the administrator of the General Services Administration an the secretary of Commerce on the document.

It’s divided into two categories: modernizing and consolidating federal networks, and moving to shared services “to enable future network architectures.” It also “outlines an agile process for updating policies and reference architectures to help the Government more rapidly leverage American innovation.”

Focusing on modernization and consolidation, the groups call in the report for agencies to “maximize secure use of cloud computing [and] modernize Government-hosted applications.”

“These actions enable agencies to move from protection of their network perimeters and managing legacy physical deployments toward protection of Federal data and cloud-optimized deployments,” the report reads.

Specifically, the plan would require prioritizing modernization around high-risk high value assets, modernizing the Trusted Internet Connections and National Cybersecurity Protection System Program to enable cloud migration, and consolidating network acquisitions and management.

On the shared services side, the report calls for three things:

  1. Enable use of Commercial Cloud. Improve contract vehicles to enable agencies to acquire commercial cloud products that meet Government standards.
  2. Accelerate Adoption of Cloud Email and Collaboration Tools. Provide support for migration to cloud email and collaboration suites that leverage the Government’s buying power. Define the next set of agencies to migrate to commercial email and collaboration suites.
  3. Improve Existing and Provide Additional Security Shared Services. Provide centralized capabilities that replace or augment existing agency-specific technology to improve both visibility and security.

“The following section of this report lays out an approach to enable, with ongoing Government-wide category management efforts, the Federal Government to shift toward a consolidated IT model by adopting centralized offerings for commodity IT,” the report says.

Of course, there’s the budgetary and resources concern that constantly plagues federal IT modernization efforts. The report says “agencies will need to realign their IT resources appropriately using business-focused, data-driven analysis and technical evaluation.” OMB will also work with agency senior officials to “determine which of their systems will be prioritized for modernization, identifying strategies to reallocate resources appropriately.”

The groups want agencies to immediately stop any procurements that “further develop or enhance legacy IT systems identified that need modernization.”

“Agencies should also emphasize reprioritizing funds and should consider ‘cut and invest’ strategies that reallocate funding from obsolete legacy IT systems to modern technologies, cloud solutions, and shared services, using agile development practices where appropriate,” the report says.

It doesn’t, however, have any mention of an IT modernization fund — a key tenant of the proposed Modernizing Government Technology Act. The White House requested $228 million for the fund in its budget proposal for next fiscal year.

The report also contains half a dozen appendices on the technical points referenced, a summary of recommendations and a proposed acquisition pilot, which would create “virtual ‘street corners’ for cloud email providers the Federal Government can use competing market forces to drive Government-wide volume pricing as a lever to speed migration.”

As a draft, the report is open for public comment. Questions or recommendations will be accepted until Sept. 20.

“Much of this plan is built on industry best practices, and a major point of emphasis is to maximize use of commercial capabilities,” Liddell’s blog post says. “This will result in a close partnership with industry to be able to achieve our targeted vision.  Given this, we are collectively looking for feedback from industry to ensure that we have adequately described our end-state and that we are best leveraging industry capabilities in our plan to get there.”

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American Technology Council, budget, Chris Liddell, IT Modernization, Office of American Innovation, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OMB, Trump administration, White House
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