From Floppy Disks to Windows 3.1, the Government Is Woefully Out of Date
The Luddite Effect

From Floppy Disks to Windows 3.1, the Government Is Woefully Out of Date

Jack English

Hipsters aren’t the only ones with an ironic love for all things vintage; the IT departments at several federal government agencies also enjoy things that harken back to a simpler time.

A Government Accountably Office report released Wednesday found that the government spent more than 75 percent, or about $60 billion of the $80 billion earmarked in fiscal year 2015 for information technology, for operating and maintaining computer systems that have gone the way of cassette tapes and inkwells.

Related: The Billion Dollar Crisis in Outdated Government Technology

For example, the Defense Department’s "Strategic Automated Command and Control System,” a backup nuclear control messaging system that runs on an IBM Series 1 computer, was first introduced in 1976, and uses eight-inch floppy disks.

"Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete," GAO said, noting the Pentagon plans to ditch the floppy disks next year.

The Internal Revenue Service's master files for individual and business taxpayer data is written in assembly language code that's over 50 years old and is difficult to maintain, according to GAO.

The Social Security Administration relies on systems used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits that are over 30 years old, the report states, some of which utilize programming that dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Justice Department’s federal inmate tracking system is 35-years-old and Medicare’s Appeals System, while only a spry 11-years- old, is having trouble keeping up with the growing number of appeals and enquires from Capitol Hill on behalf of constituents.

Related: Clinton’s Staff Ignored Investigators as They Looked Into Her Emails

In all, 5,233 of the government’s approximately 7,000 IT investments are going to operation and maintenance activities, an increase over the last seven fiscal years that “resulted in a $7.3 billion decline from fiscal years 2010 to 2017 in development, modernization, and enhancement” of technology.

“Legacy federal IT investments are becoming obsolete,” the GAO report concluded, without a hint of irony. “The federal government runs the risk of continuing to maintain investments that have outlived their effectiveness and are consuming resources that outweigh their benefits.”

What makes the report even more stunning is that the $80 billion estimate is likely higher when certain Pentagon systems, and independent agencies like the CIA, are included.

Related: Government IT Is a $75 Billion a Year Disaster. What Can Be Done About It?

President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for IT is $89 billion and much of that will be spent just keeping the power light on for thousands of systems.

GAO laid out 16 recommendations to bring the government into the 21st Century, including having the White House provide more concrete goals and timetables for an effort it launched in 2010 to have agencies consolidate data centers.

Though at the rate the government is going, virtual reality systems could be in every home before then.