NEED TO KNOW: Federal Technology for Non-IT Leaders

March 28, 2019

Technology drives almost every aspect of the federal government’s operations, from missile defense systems, to medical advancements that support injured veterans, to systems that collect and manage tax payments.

But many federal agencies struggle to harness the full power of technology to support their missions. Some of government’s most important IT systems are more than a half century old and are built on technology that is increasingly obsolete. For example, the Department of Defense coordinates the nation’s nuclear forces on a 53-year old system that relies on 8-inch floppy disks. The Internal Revenue Service’s IT system for assessing tax payments and generating refunds is 56 years old, and is based on an outdated computer code that is difficult to write and maintain.1

President Donald Trump has recognized this technology gap as a serious problem and on May 1, 2017 issued an executive order establishing the American Technology Council. The council, which falls under the purview of the new White House Office of American Innovation, will focus on helping the federal government “transform and modernize its information technology and how it uses and delivers digital services.” The president also issued an executive order in May holding agency leaders accountable for developing strategies to protect their IT systems from cyber attacks.

These changes will not only require the expertise of information technology professionals, but the involvement of a wide range of agency leaders whose direct responsibilities do not center on IT. These individuals will have an important role in agency decision-making, and throughout the process will have to navigate a complex federal IT landscape of laws, regulations and stakeholders.

To make this change possible, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services have released “Building a winning technology team: Driving results through effective partnerships, designed to explain what new career and political leaders who are not technology experts need to know about federal IT to be successful.

1 Government Accountability Office, written testimony of Information Technology and Management Issues, Director David A. Powner for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled, “Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems.” May 25, 2016, (accessed May 4, 2017).