In 2015, the Library of Congress received critical audits from the Government Accountability Office and its inspector general, both detailing serious years-long IT governance, security and strategy issues.
The troublesome findings, in particular, those from GAO, drove the library to hire a permanent chief information officer—something it hadn’t had since 2012—and laid out 30 recommendations to right the legislative branch’s IT ship.
In the two years since, the Library of Congress has made significant strides improving its IT operations, according to CIO Bernard Barton, though the library still has large challenges ahead.
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“The progress we’ve made in 18 months has set a foundation for outstanding IT service to Congress and the American people,” said Barton, speaking Thursday before the Committee on House Administration.
Prior to Barton’s arrival, leaving a job as CIO of the Defense Technical Information Center, the Library of Congress was unable to track its IT spending despite having a $100 million-plus IT budget. Transparency and accountability have been two of the main objectives Barton said he’s tackled since taking over the position.
In total, Barton said the Library of Congress is on pace to meet all but four of the recommendations GAO made in its 2015 audit by year’s end but stressed he is not treating the audit as a “box-checking” exercise. The largest recommendations, such as decisions to move to cloud services, could take several years to complete.
“The primary goal is not just to close recommendations, my intention is we take these recommendations and view them as an opportunity to get ahead of future issues,” Barton said. “Not check a box—it really is setting the library up for success in the future.”
Kurt Hyde, inspector general for the Library of Congress, said the library CIO and staff are assessing more than 100 combined audit recommendations accumulated through various reports “that’ll take years to address.” Rather than continue to issue recommendations, the Hyde said his office plans to review how the Library of Congress is fixing things rather than hammer out new orders.
“Our focus is to look at the implementation and not create additional recommendations at the macro level,” Hyde said. “Great challenges lie ahead for, but we’re hopeful the library is on the right course.”
Carla Hayden, who heads the Library of Congress, told lawmakers one of the most important steps thus far has been restructuring her management team. The CIO now reports directly to her, she said, and meets weekly on the progress of the agency’s modernization effort.
Hayden added the Library of Congress aims to have the technology infrastructure and tools to share their vast collection—more than 160 million items—with “everyone, everywhere.” That means creating the kind of customer experience one might experience in the private sector, and expanding how the public, and particularly students across the country, interact with the library. The library aims to contract out digital services work in the near future, she added, something lawmakers have encouraged.
“Our enhancements in IT infrastructure allow us to increase the accessibility to all your constituents around the country,” Hayden said. “More events will be livestreamed to schools and public libraries across the country.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said Congress will continue checking on the library’s progress. As a legislative agency, the Library of Congress isn’t required to adhere to policy pertaining to executive agencies, such as the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, which dictates CFO Act agencies ensure CIOs have budgetary authority over IT efforts.
“We think the library has made great strides in IT management,” Lofgren said. “The appointment of [CIO] Barton has been a huge step forward.”