Investing in the Delivery and Efficiency of Digital Government Services
It is imperative that American technological leadership and innovation is leveraged by government to modernize and improve the U.S. public sector’s information technology (IT) and cybersecurity in ways that improve and revolutionize the delivery, security, and efficiency of digital government services. The pandemic has reinforced what years of more gradual change has made clear—that resilient, more capable, efficient, and economical IT systems, and more effective means of protecting them against cyber threats, are necessary.
The reality is that many of the systems that government still uses today are years, if not decades, old, and the government has made slow progress towards its digital transformation. Government systems are limited in the elasticity of their capabilities, have become very costly to maintain and evolve, and in some agencies, are not at all well positioned for the challenges or changes anticipated in the future. Obsolete and legacy systems require greater maintenance, are more difficult to adapt to meet new needs, and the costs associated with them increasingly crowd out resources that should be invested in better, more capable, and less costly modern systems that more easily adapt. Additionally, failure to achieve a fully digital government will continue to impact government services and divert resources toward antiquated processes. Improved government technology and cybersecurity is crucial to providing Americans the government services they seek and need, through current and future acute challenges, like COVID-19, in ways that evolve with changing initiatives and evolving expectations, and that preserve and help to restore trust in government. Further, government entities, as authoritative issuers of identity in America, are uniquely positioned to deliver critical components that address deficiencies in our nation’s digital identity infrastructure. In doing so, much more could be done to find secure, user-friendly, and privacy-centric ways in which government could modernize the delivery of and access to government services to citizens.
Technology solutions and the resilience of the technology manufacturing supply chain can boost US competitiveness by enabling the U.S. government to deliver superior services to Americans. When governments select the right tools, they will improve the delivery of services to their constituents and strengthen democratic processes. Complacency, on the other hand, will erode them over time. Currently, the federal government spends approximately 80 percent of its nearly $90 billion annual IT budget on the maintenance and operation of legacy networks and systems. These funds should be redirected and increased to hasten strategic modernization efforts of federal IT infrastructure.
ITI recommends that the Biden Administration take the following actions:
- The Biden Administration should work with Congress to provide increased funding for strategic IT modernization investments and supply chain resiliency. Meaningful and significant boosts in agency technology budgets as well as more robust funding and policy changes for dedicated government-wide IT efforts like the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) are necessary. These funds should be used for foundational investments in cyber and technology modernization to retire obsolete legacy systems and better prepare our country to recover from the pandemic stronger than we were before and serve us for years to come. Without meaningful investments in modernizing government IT and cybersecurity at all levels of government, the costs to keep limited and unsecure systems going will continue to rise, which would leave even less to invest in new IT and respond to unforeseen emergencies.
- The Biden Administration should reform the cybersecurity policy landscape. Streamlining and harmonizing the existing piecemeal approach to cybersecurity policies will enable government to leverage the best available cyber defensive capabilities and provide government leadership with the information needed to make informed, risk-based decisions on security. Deficiencies in federal IT security put government’s and Americans’ information at risk, undermine the effectiveness of new and ongoing government operations, and threaten the security of our country. Aligning government cybersecurity requirements with the NIST Framework for Improving Critical infrastructure Cybersecurity (CSF) can help enable greater efficiency, competition, and scale. Relevant existing laws and regulations include but are not limited to the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, and the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) at the Department of Defense. Such reforms should focus on incorporating security policy best practices such as facilitating interoperability, leveraging existing international and industry standards, and avoiding duplicative requirements that may stifle the development and adoption of innovative technologies.
- The Biden Administration should support increased investments in government cybersecurity at both the Federal and State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) levels. The Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program is the primary federal government initiative for protecting civilian federal agencies. Robust investment in the CDM and other federal cybersecurity programs will be critical for securing the delivery and efficiency of digital federal services. SLTT governments are facing increasing service delivery and cybersecurity challenges made worse by malicious cyber actors who have used attention on COVID-19 to their advantage, targeting SLTT government and individual citizens with ransomware, phishing, and computer-enabled financial fraud. It is critical that the Biden Administration make the necessary and profoundly important investments in the modernization and security of SLTT information systems so they can protect citizen data, improve digital services delivery, and ensure that state and local governments have the necessary tools to protect against cyber-attacks.
- The Biden Administration should increase competition and innovation within the government procurement process. Government procurement policy should be enhanced to prioritize laws, regulations, policies and programs that streamline the acquisition of commercial items, commercially available off-the-shelf products (COTS) and “as a service (aaS)” offerings. Such a reform strategy should leverage private sector innovation and foster competition by avoiding government- or agency-unique requirements or the favoring brand names without justification. To expedite the roll-out process, government officials should consider and grant additional flexibilities in the acquisition of innovative technologies. A streamlined procurement process will maximize competition and improve governmental mission delivery.
- The Biden Administration should improve secure access to public data. To leverage the wealth of information collected by government agencies on social and economic issues, government agencies should promote the use and provide access to public data. Interoperability of government data is essential so that information is not only collected but is also accessible to the public. Leveraging data transparency enables the development of AI-based tools that aid users in analysis and problem solving at speed and scale. Standards for federal and state agencies on open data and web APIs may be effective at achieving this goal. The Administration can also invest in shared data platforms, both within and across government agencies, to streamline public access and reduce fragmentation of various sources of government information. By supporting the National AI Initiative and the Executive Order Promoting the use of Trustworthy AI, the Administration can ensure that Government Agencies have the right AI-based tools to solve hard problems using these data.
- The Biden Administrations should assert renewed strong science-based climate policy leadership from Washington in collaboration with Congress and rejoin the Paris Agreement. Technology and data offer new tools to contribute to the achievement of climate ambitions. The ICT sector stands ready to support technical assistance and capacity building efforts that will be necessary to achieve a low-carbon future. This is critical for the future of humanity, and it will also spur economic growth, create jobs, improve health, and enhance the overall quality of life.