GAO: Government's ancient computer hardware is a big problem

  • 14 August 2019
  • NormanL

The federal government's computer systems are vast, complex -- and notoriously outdated.  That's a big problem, particularly because keeping all that antique hardware running is becoming more and more expensive..and much less secure. According to the Government Accountability Office it's getting worse:

Among the 10 most critical legacy systems that GAO identified as in need of modernization, several use outdated languages, have unsupported hardware and software, and are operating with known security vulnerabilities. For example, the selected legacy system at the Department of Education runs on Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL)—a programming language that has a dwindling number of people available with the skills needed to support it. In addition, the Department of the Interior's system contains obsolete hardware that is not supported by the manufacturers. Regarding cybersecurity, the Department of Homeland Security's system had a large number of reported vulnerabilities, of which 168 were considered high or critical risk to the network as of September 2018.

So they have old computers. How old are we talking? Two. three, five years? The Treasury Department currently has some computer systems that are 51 years old. The Social Security Administration? 45 years old -- and SSA has had to hire back retired workers who know how to keep the outdated software working. And some departments still use floppy disks to store data...not exactly the most secure, or reliable, means of keeping information safe.

The GAO also found three of the ten agencies it reviwed have no plans in place to fix, upgrade, or otherwise improve their ancient data systems. You can read the entire report here.