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Here Are 10 of the Oldest IT Systems in the Federal Government

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Government information technology systems used to send out alerts about severe weather, process millions of tax returns, track hazardous waste incidents and even protect the U.S. nuclear arsenal all rely on outdated or unsupported hardware and software, according to a new watchdog report.  

How outdated? The application programming languages undergirding some federal IT systems were new when "The Andy Griffith Show" premiered, according to the Government Accountability Office's new report, which was presented to Congress on May 25. (Nextgov’s Frank Konkel has more about the report and the hearing here).

The chart below lists more details about the 10 oldest legacy systems still in use in the federal government as tallied up by GAO. It’s important to note what’s meant by “system” here. GAO is referring to the underlying programming language and data structures of a system -- even if parts of the hardware and software supporting the system have more recently been updated.

“The situation is analogous to operating a 1960s automobile with the original chassis, suspension and drivetrain, but with a more modern engine, satellite radio and a GPS navigation system,” chief technology officer of the Internal Revenue Service, Terence Milholland, testified today. “It runs better than the original model, but not nearly as efficiently as a system bought today.”

1

Agency: Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service
System: Individual Master File
Reported age: Approximately 56 years old
What is it? The massive application that receives taxpayer data and dispenses refunds. “This investment is written in assembly language code -- a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain -- and operates on an IBM mainframe,” GAO notes.

2

Agency: Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service
System: Individual Business File
Reported age: Approximately 56 years old
What is it? The companion system that maintains data on business income. The system also runs on assembly language code and operates on an IBM mainframe.

3

Agency: Defense Department
System: Strategic Automated Command and Control System
Reported age: 53 years old
What is it? The system coordinates U.S. nuclear forces. It runs on 1970s-era IBM computer systems and uses 8-inch floppy disks. Each disk holds 80 kilobytes of data -- meaning it would take more than 3.2 million floppy disks to equal the storage power of a “single modern flash drive,” GAO noted. The good news? The Pentagon is planning for upgrades, including updated data storage and desktop terminals by the end of 2017.

4

Agency: Veterans Affairs Department
System: Personnel and Accounting Integrated Data
Reported age: 53 years old
What is it? An automated time-and-attendance tracker. It runs on COBOL -- the 1950s computer programming language -- and on IBM mainframe computers. VA plans to replace it with an HR shared services platform in 2017.

5

Agency: Defense Department
System: COMPASS
Reported age: 52 years old
What is it? The Computerized Movement Planning and Status System is used to help determine when Army equipment should be removed, replaced, replaced or discarded. The system currently runs on a Windows 2008 server and uses a 2009 Oracle 11g database.

6

Agency: Veterans Affairs Department
System: Benefits Delivery Network
Reported age: 51 years old
What is it? The system, which currently operates as a suite of COBOL mainframe applications, is used by the agency to track benefit claims filed by veterans. VA has “general plans” to transition these capabilities into a new system but still lacks a firm date for the switch, according to GAO.

7

Agency: Transportation Department
System: Hazardous Materials Information System
Reported age: 46 years old
What is it? The system is used to track incidents involving hazardous materials. The system uses Classic Active Server Pages and the Microsoft.NET software framework -- both late 1990s innovations -- that have “become outdated and costly to maintain,” GAO reports. Transportation says all legacy components within the system are scheduled to be replaced by 2018.

8

Agency: Commerce Department/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
System: National Weather Service Dissemination Systems
Reported age: 46 years old
What is it? The investment is made up of three different systems used to provide warnings about severe weather to the public and emergency managers. They run on a number of different operating systems and software, including Windows Server 2003, which the company no longers supports. Some of the systems are powered by Fortran, the programming language originally developed in the 1950s. NOAA doesn’t have any plans for a major overhaul, instead opting for continuous updates to system components, GAO said.

9

Agency: Commerce Department/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
System: National Data Buoy Center Ocean Observing System of Systems
Reported age: 46 years old
What is it? These systems -- NOAA’s “eyes on the oceans” -- provide continuously updated ocean data to observe trends in sea-level heights and to forecast hazards, such as tsunamis. They run on both Windows and Linux operating systems, including an unsupported version of Microsoft server software.

10

Agency: Homeland Security Department/Immigration and Customs Enforcement
System: Hiring Tracking Systems
Reported age: 39 years old
What is it? The system, which is used to track hiring decisions at the agency, functions using COBOL and is run on a 2008 IBM z10 mainframe. The agency plans to replace the mainframe with a service-oriented architecture beginning this year -- if the agency receives enough funding, GAO noted.
By Jack Moore May 25, 2016

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