Apr 04 2023

FAA, IRS Address Questions Regarding Their IT Modernizations

Some lawmakers want to see the Federal Aviation Administration add an office for integrating new IT systems and the IRS set time frames for disposing of legacy systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration defended its ability to withstand cyberattacks after a lawmaker reintroduced legislation to reform the agency in part by improving its security.

While the FAA wouldn’t comment on the pending bill from Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., or the specifics of its cyber programs, it touted partnerships with the federal intelligence and security communities as well as industry.

After it failed to gain traction during the previous Congress, Van Drew reintroduced the Advanced Aviation Act in January, the same month the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions system went down overnight and temporarily grounded domestic departures. The event was caused not by a cyberattack but by contract personnel unintentionally deleting database files, and the FAA subsequently took steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient.

“The FAA has a comprehensive approach to protect the National Airspace System from cybersecurity threats,” says agency spokesman Steven Kulm. “The agency works closely with intelligence and security experts throughout the federal government to identify and mitigate potential risks to our systems, as well as those of our partners in the private sector.”

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An Office of Advanced Aviation

If passed, Van Drew’s bill would redesignate the FAA’s Office of NextGen as the Office of Advanced Aviation. The bill would task the new office with coordinating rulemaking and approvals for drone, supersonic aircraft and counter-unmanned aircraft systems.

The legislation would also establish the Office of Advanced Integration and an Advanced Aviation Coordination Unit, responsible for the safe integration of new IT and cyber systems into the National Airspace System, both within the Office of Advanced Aviation.

Last, the bill would extend the name of the William J. Hughes Technical Center to add “for Advanced Aviation.” The bill would require the renamed center to develop and manage a program evaluating new aviation-related technologies and facilitating their integration into the National Airspace System.

Van Drew’s office did not respond to a request for comment. However, during the House Transportation Committee’s first hearing on the FAA’s reauthorization on Feb. 7., he expressed concern that the FAA was “falling short” in its technological mission.

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The IRS Needs an IT Modernization Plan

The FAA isn’t the only agency whose IT modernization efforts have been criticized; in a report released Feb. 7, the Government Accountability Office found the IRS failed to specify how it would dispose of six of the nine outdated systems it’s currently replacing.

GAO further found the IRS recently suspended six initiatives, two of which were critical to the replacement of its 60-year-old Individual Master File, the authoritative source for individual tax account data. The IRS cited shifting resources and staff to higher-priority projects as the reason for the suspension. The agency has been trying to replace the IMF for more than a decade, but its 2030 completion date is now in limbo, according to the report.

“This will lead to mounting challenges in continuing to rely on a critical system with software written in an archaic language requiring specialized skills,” the report notes.

Finally, GAO found the IRS isn’t regularly evaluating customer experiences or user needs to ensure it’s adopting the right cloud solutions in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget’s cloud computing strategy released in June 2019.

GAO recommended the IRS establish time frames for disposing of the relevant legacy systems, release a complete modernization plan and meet OMB cloud computing requirements.

EXAMINE: How federal agencies can leverage the cloud for application modernization.

Time Frames for Disposing of Legacy Systems Forthcoming

The IRS’ response to the report largely agreed with GAO’s findings and committed to providing time frames when appropriate.

“With the passage of the [Inflation Reduction Act] in August 2022, we plan to restart and, in some cases, accelerate the programs that we paused in FY 2022 due to funding reallocations,” wrote Jeffrey Tribiano, deputy commissioner for operations support, in the IRS response. “As directed by the Treasury secretary, the IRS anticipates completing a detailed plan by February 2023 on the long-term goal of transforming taxpayer service, enforcement and technology with the IRS funding Congress made available through the end of FY 2031.”

The IRS declined to comment on whether that plan was completed or when it might be released.

Similarly, the office of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., had nothing to add to his demand the agency produce a modernization plan. Connolly chaired the House Subcommittee on Government Operations during the previous Congress and criticized the IRS for failing to get a handle on its legacy IT problem.

“We all know that customer experience should be a top priority for an agency with a nearly ubiquitous public footprint,” Connolly said in a statement issued the day GAO released its report. “Our tax system is complicated enough. IRS IT should be solving, not contributing to, the problem.”

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