CIOs: Tell Your Legacy IT Horror Stories


Shocking anecdotes about outdated technology could be the key to growing IT budgets, according to one government official.

Shocking anecdotes about outdated technology could help agencies score bigger IT budgets, according to one government IT executive.

Labor Department Chief Information Officer Dawn Leaf says “emotional trigger examples” of technological struggles may have convinced White House budget officials to recommend a a 20 percent increase in the agency’s IT budget.

"We had systems from [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] that were so old that they were buying parts on eBay, literally," Leaf told an audience in Washington on Tuesday. "We had a 30-year-old system where the people that developed it were dead."

In addition to 250 old routers, the department had 130 locations where tape drives were used to back up data.

"Even if the vendor tried to give us maintenance, they couldn't get the parts to do it," she said. "Usually, those kinds of examples help you a little but in getting working capital funds . . . I mean, who can possibly argue with a system that's 30 years old, where the people are dead? That's crazy for the government to have things like that."

In terms of IT spending as a percentage of total agency budget, the department ranks 22nd out of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act, Leaf said. 

Last week, White House Tony Scott warned an audience at Nextgov's Prime conference the legacy systems undergirding many agencies' IT infrastructure could be security risks. 

"The core problem in the cybersecurity space, in my opinion, is that the building blocks -- the things that we're using to build even today's IT systems, even the most modern things, like the cloud -- are fundamentally using components or pieces that were created and designed in an era when we didn't face the kind of threats that we have today," he said. 

Federal resources directed to new application development and making the government more digital as a percent of overall IT spending, "looks like it's headed the wrong way," he added. 

"Because of sequester and other kinds of issues, we're not replacing and upgrading and transforming the very core of our federal government at a fast enough rate," Scott said. "Without some help, without some incentive, I fear that that trend will continue to go the wrong way."

(Image via JohnKwan/