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The Department of Defense is still using 8-inch floppy disks: GAO report

A new report slams federal agencies for using antiquated (and expensive-to-maintain) technologies.
Remember eight-inch floppy disks? The Department of Defense, apparently, doesn’t have to remember.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office takes a look at federal IT spending and, specifically, how much various agencies are spending on maintaining “legacy” (read: antiquated) technologies.
The GAO found that, in 2015, the federal government spent about 75 percent of its total IT budget (of over $80 billion) on operations and maintenance. Additionally, such “maintaining the status quo” spending has only increased over the past few years, while spending on modernization has decreased.
Per the GAO report:

Federal IT spending, per the GAO report. (Screenshot)

Federal IT spending. (Screenshot)

An example of what one federal agency is spending all that money on? The GAO found that the DoD runs nuclear functions on an IBM Series/1 Computer (from the 1970s) and uses eight-inch floppy disks for memory. We repeat:
“Department of Defense uses 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of
the nation’s nuclear forces,” the report states, amazingly. “In addition, Department of the Treasury uses assembly language code—a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed.”
The silver lining in this particular case is that the DoD does have a modernization plan in place.
This stands in contrast to the Treasury Department, an agency that has a vague plan but no set date yet to retire its use of assembly language code and IBM mainframes.
The problem with using these legacy technologies is that maintenance is increasingly expensive and, ultimately, wasteful. According to the Associated Press, GAO IT expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “clearly, there are billions wasted.”
The GAO report concludes by recommending a specific, strategic plan to prioritize IT modernization. But, as the AP writes, it’s still unclear whether Congress will move decisively towards this kind of investment.
You can read the full GAO report here.


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