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Modernizing the FCC Enterprise

by: Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer

April 28, 2014

According to the Government Accountability Office, Federal agencies are currently spending over 70% of their Information Technology budgets on maintaining legacy systems. Government-wide, these maintenance costs amount to over $54 billion a year spent on existing legacy systems, and delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

Upon my arrival to the FCC, I began a series of collaborative discussions with our Chairman, Managing Director, the FCC Bureau and Office Chiefs, and all members of the FCC to listen, learn, and identify ways to modernize the Commission’s IT enterprise. These discussions resulted in a variety of existing, long-standing issues, historically thorny challenges, and strong perspectives about how FCC could improve its IT. After rigorous prioritization, focused foremost on the FCC’s mission, we narrowed our IT modernization focus to seven specific tracks.

In the spirit of openness, I’d like to share our seven tracks as we embark on our journey to modernize the FCC enterprise. These tracks and supporting goals represent our focused efforts to bring the FCC into the 21st century and ensure the Commission has some of best IT in government supporting its mission. Like an iceberg where a majority of the ice is hidden underwater, modernizing manual, human-intensive processes at the FCC will reduce legacy “sunk costs” at the Commission. The result will be a more agile, responsive, IT-enabled FCC enterprise able to work faster and float “above water”. Our workforce will be more effective, efficient in their time and energy, and better able to deliver the highest quality public service to the U.S. public and FCC partners.

1. Improve Secure Employee Telework & Mobility

Conversations at our Headquarters, at our Gettysburg location, and FCC field office locations revealed an urgent, long-standing need to improve employee capabilities to work remotely and securely on any mobile device. The FCC IT team immediately started addressing this initiative, and we’re currently rolling out our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) across the FCC Bureau’s and Office’s. In fact, when the Chairman saw the demo for FCC VDI, he immediately wanted to be a beta tester in our initial rollout.

2. Secure Internal & External Collaborations

Listening and learning from folks at FCC, as well as our external partners, revealed a dramatic need to improve how the FCC collaborates electronically beyond just email.

FCC currently requires most of its users to save to Outlook “personal storage files” emails older than 90 days due to online email storage limitations. This is something FCC IT will fix by expanding the storage capabilities of email and, based on input from the Bureaus and Offices,  we’ll also encourage other cloud-based solutions for improved internal and external collaborations across teams.

3. Strengthen FCCs IT Security Posture

The FCC IT’s highest priority is to provide a safe and secure environment for performing the Commission’s mission. With rising cyber-threats, the challenge nowadays is anything connected to the internet is inherently vulnerable to being compromised, no matter what defenses you apply. As such, we will improve the security of FCC’s networks and improve the protection of the privacy of user information by baking-in automated alerts, compartmentalized controls, and system resiliency at the code-level of our modular modernization updates.

Since my arrival, we have deployed “data loss prevention” tools as the first step on this journey, and are building an internal resiliency operations center so that we improve protection of electronic privacy, civil liberties, and cyber security on the FCC network by intentional design.

4. Transform Access to FCC Enterprise Data 

More than 40% of the IT systems at the FCC are greater than 10 years old, and in several cases extracting data from these systems is a very time-intensive effort since code and data are co-mingled. The FCC Data and Information Officers Working Group had atrophied in the last 12-14 months prior to my arrival, so we're in the process of re-invigorating of that group. As we modernize our systems, we will implement web-based user interfaces, as well as application programming interfaces (APIs) to make the data more open to the public and FCC partner organizations. The vision is the FCC becomes a trusted broker of data in and out appropriately, so that the public, our partners, and other government agencies can remix and analyze the data that we share in new ways.

5. Modernize Legacy Systems & Tracking 

The FCC has 200+ different systems, a surprisingly large number of systems for a Commission of only 1750-or-so people. We will modernize these systems by encouraging the Bureaus and Offices, as well as relevant FCC partners, to storyboard their desired “to be state” and then produce modular components for the systems tailored to the desired workflows, both internal and external to the FCC. Joint collaborations with our programmatic partners will help ensure that the priority modules we produce will make best use of the Commissions’ resources. These new system modules ideally will be cloud services, allowing us to reuse code for similar projects if the workflows are the same. We also are working on an “open source by default” policy at FCC for these modules and other IT efforts, to include hosting an expert panel to discuss this topic later this summer.

6. Improve FCC.gov & Complaint Reform

Listening to and learning from several stakeholders, both externally and internally, I've discovered FCC has a strong user base that likes parts of the Commission's circa-1998 transition.fcc.gov which I want to honor and respect. Using a combination of outreach to the public, partners that frequently use FCC.gov, and our internal stakeholders – combined with data-driven web analytics – we hope to identify the most useful parts of FCC.gov and work to improve search, usability, and accessibility across them all. As part of the Chairman's Process Reform, we also plan to develop a modern "web-first, telephone-second" process at the Commission for handling U.S. telecommunications complaints that shifts away from paper-intensive, form-based work.

7. Increase Transparency & System Usability

There are, and have been, several dedicated folks across the FCC working hard and late hours to make the Commission do great things. I often compare the days to being like an “ultra-concentrated-protein-shake” since there’s so much going on here that’s truly for the public to improve our world. At FCC, we're encouraging greater transparency on activities and data both within and outside the Commission, pursuing mobile and cloud-based applications, and modernizing our systems so that we can make more open data available for others. The FCC Speed Test App was #4 recently on the iOS store – a first for any government agency – allowing the public to voluntarily participate producing a crowd sourced, open data map of connection speeds across the nation.

In closing, the accelerating pace of IT change means the FCC must modernize its enterprise and its culture to embrace new IT advancements. What inspires me daily is there is such important work to be done – and now with the internet we can work better across distances and time zones with the public, with partner organizations, and within government in ways that weren't possible 10 years ago or even 5 years ago.

As I wrote six months ago on the importance of communication: I invite ideas, feedback, and comments – and look forward to the journey ahead.

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