Tech Modernization is About Cybersecurity, Federal CIO Says

Suzette Kent

Suzette Kent USDA

Security requires a modern tech architecture, CIO Suzette Kent said.

The federal government’s technology modernization campaign is inseparable from efforts to shore up government cybersecurity, federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said Thursday.

In many cases, government technology systems were designed years or even decades ago, before the government was deeply concerned about cybersecurity and before hackers were so focused on digitally compromising government systems, Kent said during a CyberTalks event sponsored by the media company CyberScoop.

Updating those systems can benefit agencies by making their work faster, easier and cheaper. It can also make securing the systems far easier, Kent said.

“The way that we become more secure, the way that we protect our infrastructure is to have a modern infrastructure,” Kent said.  

For example, many agencies have adopted cloud-based email systems, which are more secure than legacy email systems, Kent said.

She also cited efforts to improve agencies’ trusted connections to the internet and systems that verify the identity of employees accessing sensitive data.

Federal agencies have broadly struggled with aged and custom-built hardware and software systems that are costly to maintain and difficult to update.

Congress approved a Technology Modernization Fund for federal agencies last year but has only funded it with $100 million so far. Executive branch officials have allocated $45 million of that funding to three projects.

The Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration sought an additional $210 million but it’s not yet clear if lawmakers will allocate additional funding before the close of this Congress.

“Modern design considers security as an integrated requirement, not an afterthought,” Kent said.