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November/December 2020 FCW.COM
weren’t you doing that virtually before?’ We were flying folks all over the world to do some things that are inherently on-network activities.”
“The interesting question will be how much of that reverts to tradition” when widespread travel becomes practical again, he added.
The money discussion has
changed (for now)
The group was divided on how the scrambles of 2020 would affect future modernization budgets. On the one hand, money flowed relatively freely thanks to dedicated CARES Act funding and the reprogramming flexibility that the law gave some agencies. “I think the influx of funding helped the CIOs get the bureaucracy and the noise out of the way to execute what they knew they needed to do already,” one partici- pant said. Several commented on their ability to “move projects to the left.”
Officials whose agencies have IT working capital funds or other sourc-
es of multi-year funding said they were taking full advantage of those tools and stressed the need for such flexibility across government. “Congress needs to get out of their own way” and write such funds into appropriations bills, one participant said.
But some agencies experienced IT budget cuts just as the pandemic was ramping up, and several participants said they were concerned about the bills that would come due in 2021 and 2022.
One official said top executives in his department had sent letters to the Office of the CIO praising the new collaboration tools and other services, saying, “’You can’t take this stuff away.’ And then we attach the bill to it, and it is becoming a much more real conversation again.”
IT modernization is no longer seen as “an overhead cost,” another executive said. “It is now absolutely just accepted that we are foundational to the mission.” But he and others said it
was too early to tell if that acceptance would translate into budget.
The stubborn legacy systems
One area that prompted particular budget concerns was the legacy sys- tems that agencies have not yet mod- ernized — specifically because their bespoke nature makes it difficult and costly to do so.
“There are still older systems that are lagging, and there needs to be some kind of infusion of cash to really tackle some of that,” one CIO said. “And those are the ones that I think in the long run will continue to hurt us over the next several years.” She called those systems “albatrosses” and noted that some are high-value assets that can’t simply be replaced with a commercial product. Those long modernization efforts will require not only multi-year funding, but sus- tained attention and nurture “beyond political cycles and funding cycles.”
Another participant, however, said

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