Federal IT Modernization: Learning from the Past, While Looking to the Future

Eight years after the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management,” the federal government information technology landscape has evolved quite a bit, and it’s important to reflect back on the progression of federal IT modernization efforts in the United States as we all plan for the future.

The Obama administration’s comprehensive 25-point plan was introduced in 2010, and was followed by the “Federal Cloud Computing Strategy” in early 2011. The latter strategy instituted a Cloud First policy for the federal government for the first time. Later that same year, Congress included a provision in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that directed the Department of Defense to create a Department-wide strategy for transitioning to commercial cloud computing. In 2013-14, Congress introduced and passed the bipartisan Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, which was the most significant federal IT reform in nearly 20 years at the time.

Many of those early policies established frameworks – including for risk management and cloud security – that still exist today. Federal civilian agencies, ranging from the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to agencies such as NASA and the Securities and Exchange Commission, migrated more and more workloads to commercial cloud service providers. So did the U.S. intelligence community, which selected Amazon Web Services as its commercial cloud following a robust competition in 2012-13.  At the AWS Public Sector Summit in in Washington, D.C. this year, the CIA’s associate deputy director of commercial innovation said that the community’s use of commercial cloud has “been nothing short of transformational” and that it “has transformed our ability to build new capabilities.”

On the other hand, the transition to commercial cloud services has taken longer for other federal agencies and departments. So we find ourselves at a crossroads again, much like we did in those years between 2010 and 2012, when the federal government implemented many cornerstone policies that established the foundation for the increasingly successful move to commercial cloud.

During the first two years of the Trump administration, both the executive branch and Congress have once again focused on efforts that are aimed moving federal government IT systems fully into the 21st century. President Donald  Trump directly linked the improvement of cybersecurity in federal agencies to IT modernization in his May 2017 Executive Order on “Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure”, and he also established White House Office of American Innovation in March 2017. The OAI then issued a final “Report to the President on IT Modernization” in December 2017. Through OMB’s new “Cloud Smart” initiative, the current administration has the opportunity to keep up the momentum buy emphasizing commercial cloud as a core enabler of IT modernization.

Concurrently, Congress also voted to pass the Modernizing Government Management Act, which is focused on modernizing federal IT system – including the shift to cloud — as part of the FY 2018 NDAA. Two of the primary provisions in the MGT Act are: 1) the establishment of a centralized Technology Modernization Fund and Technology Modernization Board; and 2) the authorization for all “CFO Act” agencies to establish IT Working Capital Funds. It is essential that Congress appropriate the necessary funds in the TMF to significantly expand the adoption of cloud and other emerging technologies throughout the federal government.

So as we look ahead, there is a lot of progress on IT modernization that the federal government can build on and that officials can be proud of. Two consecutive administrations from different political parties have established and implemented major policies that have advanced federal IT reforms and enabled major shifts to the cloud by federal agencies. Congress also has passed key enabling legislation in that same time-frame.

The next couple of years do not have to be any different. The Trump administration and Congress can work together to continue to modernize mission-critical government systems to improve service delivery to the public, secure sensitive systems and data, and save taxpayer dollars. That includes supporting the IT modernization efforts of federal agencies and departments that haven’t moved as fast as the intelligence community has. Let’s learn from the lessons of the past, while looking to the future.


Shannon Kellogg is the director of AWS Public Policy for the Americas.

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