Report: DHS deep in technical debt, exposed to hacks and other risks

The US Department of Homeland Security is continuing to use severely outdated information technology (IT) systems. This is dangerous to national security and public safety, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has warned.

Kevin Walsh, the director of IT and Cybersecurity for the GAO, spoke in Congress last week and disclosed that further use of mission critical yet outdated technology can jeopardize America.

In congressional testimony, Walsh expressed concerns about the potentially detrimental impact of antiquated systems on, for instance, disaster response efforts nationwide. He also stressed massive federal investments were needed in order to transition from outdated technology.

He described the Federal Emergency Management Agency's grants management modernization program as an example of one effort at DHS to replace a series of legacy IT systems "that are a burden for recipients, a burden for the agency and are slowing down the response to disasters.”

"If that legacy system were to fully go off the rails, a disaster without grants from the government would be very difficult for our citizens," Walsh added.

In an update on its website, the GAO says it recommended in 2019 that DHS develop a modernization plan for one of its most critical legacy systems. DHS did so in February 2022, and included milestones in the plan to replace this system and remove outdated hardware.

“However, DHS hasn't implemented all of our recommendations to ensure its other legacy IT systems that support financial, biometric identity, and grants management are successfully replaced,” the report added.

Cybernews has already reported that thousands of US organizations, including state agencies, are running on outdated software. The cost of failing to address the so-called technical debt is costing trillions.

In another study, the GAO showed that around one-third of the digital applications run by the Internal Revenue Service are out of date.

The problem is that modernizing tech is costly. So it happens that the Republicans in Congress are constantly pushing against federal government spending. Last week, the US got close to suspending the country’s debt ceiling and making America fall into an unprecedented default before the budget deal was finally signed by President Joe Biden.

“This is probably not what you want to hear given the current fiscal environment, however, IT modernization may not be a cost saving endeavor. What we do get are newer systems that are more efficient, better functionality and stronger security,” said Walsh in Congress.

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