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Politics blamed for feds' reliance on old IT

Patrick Thibodeau | Aug. 4, 2016
A new research paper looks at the politics of IT in the U.S. government

He argues that “national politics significantly affects IT investments.”

By looking at data on IT investments in 14 years of data, Pang found that when the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are controlled by the president’s ruling party, “the share of investments in new IT development is 8.3% higher than when the opposition party holds the majority in both chambers.”

This study also found that when the head of a federal agency is not confirmed by the Senate for more than one year, an indicator of a divided government, the share of IT development is nearly 5% lower than otherwise.

Congress is less likely to “bestow a large amount of funding” on an agency led by an unconfirmed official -- someone who is also easier to dismiss for an IT failure, the paper notes.

For their part, government agencies avoid risk, fear budget cuts and elimination of programs they run, which helps to explain “why many federal agencies stick to decades-old legacy systems,” he wrote.

Although there is variation agency by agency, the report found that government officials fear investments in new system systems, where failure could lead to anything from budget cuts to reputation-damaging congressional hearings. In those circumstances, maintaining the status quo becomes the preferred option.


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