January 20, 2022
Vice President, C_TEC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
For decades, the public sector IT infrastructure has lagged behind the private sector, a matter that has been further highlighted by the pandemic. During the past few years, some government systems have failed to meet the needs of citizens and been unable to provide remote access services.
Going forward, there’s a call for a congressional effort toward IT modernization and digital transformation. United States Representatives Darrell Issa (CA-50) and Gerry Connolly (VA-11) joined the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) to discuss how public and private sectors can work together to achieve these IT infrastructure goals and better serve the American people.
The Government Must Work With the Public to Remotely Provide Services
Rep. Darrell Issa noted that many business professionals take for granted the work we can do over Zoom. Failure to adjust to these remote processes, however, has hurt many businesses.
For example, Issa noted, in the last two years, the state department has fallen “one year behind in passport renewals [and] in visas around the world. Essentially, places that used to get a passport [or] a visa in two or three weeks now can wait six months [to] a year, depending upon the country.”
One of the reasons they fell so behind is because they weren't set up for remote interviewing, Issa continued.
“Even though they actually interview behind a glass wall, in most cases, they simply were unable to function remotely,” he said. “That’s a travesty when we're trying to keep an economy going — when we're trying to move people safely in and out of the country.”
“What we fail to do, the rest of the world fails to do,” he said. “We really have to have a plan to effectively work with the public … with software that allows us to remotely provide services.”
The Technology Modernization Fund Provides Incentives to Replace Old IT Systems
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly the average lifespan of a senior political manager in the federal government is about 18 months.
“You [have] 18 months to make your mark on the federal agency you're heading or the division or department you're heading,” said Connolly. “A replacement of older IT … is going to be a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar proposition for most big federal agencies, and you need to decide, as a manager, how much political capital are you willing to expand for something you're not even going to live to see politically.”
He added that managers are tying up personnel and money to replace their existing IT systems, yet other business priorities will inevitably come along to disrupt that goal. As that falls in priority and other things become more important, it can be easy to lose sight of why you invested in it from the get-go.
“That's why we created … the technology modernization fund to provide an economic catalyst and incentive for those managers to keep going with that proposition of replacing my older IT systems and take that risk — and we'll provide some financial incentives to help you do that,” Connolly said.
Both the Private and Public Sectors Can Embrace Digital Transformation on Multiple Levels
Issa noted that in places where cyber has been used as a weapon, like Ukraine, “they almost always take down two areas: communication and power.”
“The grid goes down, and directly and indirectly, internet and other communications go down,” he said. “These are areas in which some of the oldest and most arcane software is being used. These are areas that are administered disproportionately by state and local governments, or even the private sector.”
He noted that, while Congress has put some attention into communication and power, they’re going to have to invest more money and “eliminate the stovepipes that cause systems not to talk to each other or to be vulnerable to being talked to by an adversary.”
“As we're looking at IT modernization, it won’t all be government directly,” said Issa. “It's going to be just as important so that the next pandemic isn't … caused by the hospitals shutting down because the grids shut down.”
From the Series