Antiquated…and dangerous? GAO finds Defense Dept. still uses FLOPPY disks to control U.S. nuclear forces

( During an audit of federal IT systems the Government Accountability Office made a startling discovery: That the Department of Defense is still using antiquated and long outdated 8-inch floppy disks to control U.S. nuclear forces.

As reported by FierceGovernmentIT, that’s because DoD’s Automated Command and Control System runs on a computer system from the 1970s, according to a May report (pdf) from GAO, which looked more broadly at the billions of dollars the government spends on maintaining information technology.

“The system coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircrafts, among others,” the report stated. “For those in the nuclear command area, the system’s primary function is to send and receive emergency action messages to nuclear forces.”

What’s even more incredible is that DoD only began updating that system this year, and in typical bureaucratic manner doesn’t plan on having the system completely updated for another four years, by 2020, the report stated, adding that the floppies will be replaced with security digital cards.

FierceGovernmentIT reported further:

Other problem areas the report called out included tax data written in low-level computer code and operated on mainframes, and retirement benefits systems comprised of 162 subsystems written in COBOL. Several agencies’ technology is 50-plus years old.

As you might imagine, it costs a small fortune to maintain these antiquated systems. In fact, as GAO noted, spending on operations and maintenance of these systems has only increased over the past seven years (the Obama administration), resulting in a $7.3 billion decline in development, modernization and enhancement.

Last year, for instance, the audit found that the government spent about three-quarters of its IT budget on operations and maintenance, leaving little for replacement and modernization – even for a system as vital to national security that which controls the country’s nuclear weapons.

“Agencies say the increased spending is due to a number of factors,” a May 25 article in The Hill stated. “They say after a system is replaced, much of the cost shifts to maintenance and operation. They also say that rising costs are associated with marinating aging infrastructure that might need outdated expertise to operate.”

The report really criticized the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for neglecting to set targets for spending on new technologies such as cloud storage and shared services, which the government has only recently begun to track, according to the article, FierceGovernmentIT reported.

Without a policy from OMB, “the federal government runs the risk of continuing to maintain investments that have outlived their effectiveness and are consuming resources that outweigh their benefits,” the audit stated.

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