As the United States Congress continues to scrutinize and dissect President Biden’s American Recovery Plan, an allocation toward upgrading and modernizing federal IT infrastructure seems destined for the cutting room floor. In its original form, the relief bill includes a $9 billion funding increase for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), the primary financial support program for IT modernization projects. The proposed boost in funding would be astronomical for the TMF, which has been allocated a paltry $150 million since its establishment in 2017 and could prove crucial in defending U.S. government agencies from the next cyberattack—from foreign intruders or domestic agitators.
Neera Tanden, President Biden’s embattled nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), spoke during a tense Congressional confirmation hearing on the current state of federal cybersecurity and the necessity of prioritizing modernization. The OMB encompasses the Federal CIO, all related federal technology offices, and the IT Oversight and Reform (ITOR) fund, and more. Tanden addressed several points of concern during the hearing, including adequately responding to the SolarWinds cyberattack of 2020, the effects of which are still not fully known.
Another key concern, brought about greatly and swiftly with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, is the increased demand for remote work, and the need to sufficiently support government employees and secure their systems. In addition to protecting government systems and information, modernization is essential in protecting the public’s private information. She also noted the increased cyber weaponization by foreign adversaries, like Russia, and the potential harm of falling behind other nations’ cyber capabilities.
The number of barriers obstructing federal IT modernization is greater than many may expect. Traditionally, if action is not taken on such projects immediately, their importance is underestimated by Washington officials who simply don’t understand the current scope of vulnerability. Projects are then kicked down the road and lost in the shuffle of government agendas that are overcrowded to say the least.
The TMF has become the medium of choice for fortifying and modernizing federal IT, but its continued insufficient funding keeps the overhaul lagging—which could spell disaster for a U.S. that is reeling from multiple simultaneous crises. Improving federal IT would greatly benefit the government’s current vaccine rollout program, bolstering public communication and reducing public confusion and uncertainty. It would also reinforce other pandemic-related quagmires, like the glaring problems with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The President acknowledges the urgency of upgrading government IT infrastructures from the immensely outdated legacy systems, seeing it as a national security threat of utmost concern. Without authoritative and persistent advocacy and attention, which Tanden would likely bring to the OMB, the most vital systems of the U.S. government may remain vulnerable to more attacks and failures.