The Government’s Technology Agency Admits It Has Lousy Technology

The FCC’s aging technology leaves it vulnerable to attacks.

An unidentified employee lifts an old computer monitor for testing at August 1, 2002 in Opa Locka, Florida. The company, one of about 30 in the U.S., takes in outdated computer parts from businesses and organizations in the southeastern U.S., tests and recycles the parts, prepares the computers for re-use, and finally exports them for sale in 26 countries. It is illegal for large companies to dump old computer parts in landfills, so they must turn to demanufacturers like for computer disposal. Business for the company has increased so much since their 1998 inception that they are getting ready for their eighth move to a larger warehouse. (Photo by David Friedman/Getty Images)
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
March 27, 2014, 12:39 p.m.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion is charged with reg­u­lat­ing the na­tion’s tech­no­logy and tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions in­dus­tries. But in house, the com­mis­sion’s own equip­ment is so de­fi­cient that its lead­er came to Con­gress this week plead­ing for an up­grade.

“We just simply can­not go on this way,” the vis­ibly frus­trated FCC chair­man told a Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee on Thursday.

At hear­ings this week be­fore the House and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tees that handle his agency’s budget, Chair­man Tom Wheel­er told Con­gress that the FCC needs $13.5 mil­lion to up­grade its “an­ti­quated” tech­no­logy sys­tem.

Vul­ner­ab­il­ity to cy­ber­at­tacks is a top con­cern for Wheel­er. For ex­ample, many of the FCC’s com­puters still use Win­dows XP, the 13-year-old op­er­at­ing sys­tem that Mi­crosoft is end­ing sup­port for on April 8.

“As a res­ult of my be­ing here today … we will see a pre­cip­it­ous in­crease in the amount of at­tacks on the FCC web­site,” Wheel­er said Thursday. “If we have re­spons­ib­il­ity for the eco­nom­ic en­gine of the 21st cen­tury, we can’t be sit­ting here … ex­posed as we are.”

The out­dated tech­no­logy is also a drag on the agency’s ef­fi­ciency.

Im­prov­ing the agency’s ef­fi­ciency and ac­count­ab­il­ity is a high pri­or­ity for Con­gress and the new chair­man, and even Re­pub­lic­an Com­mis­sion­er Ajit Pai agreed that the sorry state of its IT makes it dif­fi­cult to achieve those goals.

Ac­cord­ing to Wheel­er, the agency has more than 200 dif­fer­ent com­puter sys­tems and 40 per­cent of its tech­no­logy is at least 10 years old. Money not spent on up­grades next year will be spent with­in two years on ex­pens­ive main­ten­ance.

Cit­ing his long ca­reer in the private sec­tor, Wheel­er said, “There is not a busi­ness in Amer­ica that would put up with this.”

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