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Oversight Chairman: $3 Billion IT Upgrade Fund ‘Hogwash’

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A top Capitol Hill Republican is not a fan of the Obama administration’s plan to help federal agencies upgrade outdated IT systems -- or at least its price tag.

The White House’s 2017 budget, released earlier this month, proposes establishing a $3.1 billion revolving fund devoted specifically to helping agencies modernize legacy systems at increased risk of cyberattacks and plain old system failures.

During a Feb. 25 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pointed out the federal government typically spends about $80 billion a year on IT and a total of $525 billion since President Barack Obama took office.

“You're getting more than $80 billion a year, and that ain't enough?" Chaffetz said.

That’s a lot of money, conceded federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, who was one of the government officials testifying before the committee. The problem is Washington’s appropriations process, he said.

“We've heard from every CIO that getting the funding to go replace any of these large system has not been something they've been able to do in their normal budgeting process,” he said.

It’s easy enough to maintain spending on “old legacy systems,” Scott said. But they get more expensive to maintain every year, in part because agencies have to keep adding bolt-on security tools.

“The hardest money to get” is funding to develop new systems, he added. The proposed modernization fund would allow agencies to make those initial investments in new systems development.

Chaffetz’s response?

“I think that's hogwash,” he said. “To suggest we're just $3 billion away from actually solving this problem is ridiculous.”

Chaffetz later added: “This is not a funding issue. One good trip to Best Buy and you could do better than we're doing now. That's the concern."

The administration’s focus on updating outdated so-called legacy IT systems in government has grown in prominence during Scott’s tenure as CIO.

All told, about 70 percent -- and perhaps even more -- of total government IT spending is slated for operating and maintaining legacy systems. At a White House conference last year, Scott said the problem had reached “crisis” proportions.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said the committee “ought to drill down” on those numbers and called for an agency-by-agency inventory of IT systems.

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