As policymakers continue to push Federal agencies to modernize their IT systems, top technology officials at four prominent government departments and organizations this week explained the progress they are making in legacy IT modernization and innovation.

During an FNN webinar on Aug. 22, IT leaders from the Labor Department (DoL), the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laid out their modernization progress thus far and noted work that still needs to be done in the future.

Labor Digitizing Green Card Journey

The DoL’s chief information officer (CIO) noted that the department’s latest Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) award will be used to “revolutionize” the permanent labor certification process.

“Very few people understand that actually the Green Card journey for certain types of immigrants begins at the Department of Labor,” DoL CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said.  He said the TMF funding is slated to “revolutionize or digitize” the process “so that instead of the 16-page labor certificate that I had when I immigrated in the year 2000 to the United States, it’s actually becoming a boarding pass like United [Airlines] sends you over for your flight.”

Ahluwalia explained that digitizing this process at the DoL will help immigrants receive their Green Card and citizens check faster from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Another modernization project that Ahluwalia’s team is spearheading at the DoL is in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

The DoL launched an identity proofing technology at USPS offices across Arkansas, Oregon, and Oklahoma to help speed up the unemployment insurance claims process. Fifteen additional states are slated to get this tech soon, Ahluwalia said.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Ahluwalia explained, the unemployment insurance system had a light shining on it because these systems were getting eight to 10 times the volume of claims than they were used to. That demand pressure, he said, meant they were also susceptible to fraud, and that made identify proofing more of a challenge.

“The one entity that kept working all through the pandemic has always delivered is the United States Postal Service,” he said. “So we started a program to start doing ID proofing for many of these states through the United States Postal Service while helping solve and reduce fraud, improving equity for people who don’t have access to technology, as well as giving your revenue stream to your United States Postal Service.”

“You just walk into a local post office show your ID and there is a small API that we have connected to state’s claim systems with USPS and it says yep, your ID has been verified and immediately your claims are processed from there on out,” Ahluwalia said.

Coast Guard Leaning on Industry for Modernization Help

The Engineering Services Division Chief of the C5I Service Center at the U.S. Coast Guard, Capt. Andrew Campen, highlighted that the service branch has been leaning on outside vendors for technology help as the Coast Guard seeks to modernize.

“Another recent contract that we released was our IT infrastructure support contract,” Campen said. “Earlier this year, we awarded that and what that does is alleviate Coast Guard personnel from doing many of the network operations, mission support, monitoring functions that we’ve done in the past, and really pushing that off to a vendor.”

“That allows Coast Guard personnel to focus on other mission support activities that more directly impact what ‘Coasties’ are doing out there in the field,” he added.

Campen highlighted that the deployment of services that are provided by industry – like Microsoft – has allowed the Coast Guard to be more productive, especially for people who are taking advantage of the remote work environment.

The captain also highlighted the importance of modernizing the service’s cutter fleets. The implementation of significantly higher bandwidth and connectivity to those vessels began a few months ago, Campen explained.

“People on those cutters need instant access to information, they need their applications to work, and historically, they haven’t worked well because of the significant latency and bandwidth demands of those applications,” he said. “So providing them connectivity, similar to what we have in the office environment, they’re able to do Teams calls, they’re able to video chat with friends and family.”

FAA Overhauling Legacy Applications

The FAA has embarked on a “sustained, forward thinking application modernization initiative that will have positive implications not only for the FAA citizens and industry stakeholders, but for the FAA workforce as well,” the agency’s Director of Solution Delivery Service said.

Sean McIntyre explained during the FNN webinar that over the last few years the FAA has been rewriting its legacy applications to lessen the agency’s technical debt.

“These investments are enabling the FAA to breathe new life into many of these applications by updating every aspect, refactoring them for more cloud native architectures, like containers, and once an application has been through the transformation will be much easier to stave off the technical debt and vulnerabilities that inevitably accrue and all systems and routine enhancements will be much easier to implement,” McIntyre said.

“We’ve successfully put 26 applications through this process, and we submitted a TMF proposal earlier this year to do 22 more,” he said.

FCC Working on the Cloud

The FCC’s CIO, Allen Hill, joined the agency one year ago in August 2022. Since then, he said, “we have really zeroed in on modernization efforts.”

“We’ve focused on the rationalization of our maintenance services that are within our data center,” Hill said. “We’ll continue to migrate those services to our cloud service providers as we work through the rationalization trials. As soon as we move the workload, we pivot immediately to modernize those servers, maximize them as much as possible for FedRAMP cloud native capabilities.”

“This is extremely important for us to build and leverage these services so we’re not bolting on third party,” Hill said. “We want to make sure everything is natural and integrated and seamless to the users.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.