Why Are Important Government Agencies Using Outdated Technology?

Outdated tech used by important U.S. government agencies can cost three times more than new technology.  In fact, your smartphone is probably smarter than some of the technology used by NASA and the U.S. Military.

While Apple, Google, and all of Silicon Valley put smarter computers into the hands of regular people across the world, governments like that of the U.S. are often stuck behind the times.

Here are some of the biggest government agencies using technology from over a decade ago.

outdated technology


Since we so often associate space travel with futurism, NASA is one agency you’d expect to be up on the latest in computing.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”TdkhVqL1gPx6rAvILaoa4nA2vxKaXEQo”]NASA is currently testing their newest space shuttle, Orion, which will carry humans into deep space, and later to and from Mars. Even so, its computing technology is 12 years old, making most of today’s cell phones smarter than the computers running the spaceship of the future.

Though unusual, this detail shouldn’t be a hazard. NASA scientists emphasize that in the case of Orion, reliability is more important than speed — so with tried and tested technology, however outdated, everyone can be more confident and prepared.

outdated technology

Outdated technology at the U.S. Military

With the U.S. Military’s enormous spending budget, and news of amazingly futuristic-sounding weapons, tools, and robots gaining traction, one would not expect some areas of the military to be lagging dramatically in terms of technology.

But just because the military recently unveiled an epic laser weapon doesn’t mean everything is even close to laser-quality. For example, many employees or soldiers still use Microsoft Outlook, 25 year old guns, and Blackberry phones.

The military’s nuclear missile arsenal is also quite notoriously out of date, with secure information stored on floppy disks, and the weapons themselves over 25 years old. A 2016 study revealed that the cost of the old systems can be as much as three times the cost of a new one.

On the bright side, outdated technology is more difficult to hack.

The V.A., Federal Register

A 2014 audit of the Department of Veteran Affairs revealed a system reliant on cumbersome and outdated scheduling technology, which may have contributed to delays in providing care for veterans.

There is also the Federal Register, which publishes everything from rule changes to executive orders and collects information from other government agencies.[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”TdkhVqL1gPx6rAvILaoa4nA2vxKaXEQo”]

Because of old legal requirements and an expensive secure email system not wholly adopted, flash drives and SD cards are not allowed, and so many agencies use floppy disks and CD-roms to transfer signed copies of documents.

What’s the deal?

It may seem strange that the American government is in many cases far behind that of companies like Google and Apple and the consumers that use them. But when considering the structural differences between private and public sectors technology acquisitions, it makes better sense.

The government’s technology infrastructure moves at a slower rate than the private sector for several reasons, which include:

  • Government budgets: Government budgets are less flexible than those of the private sector; it is more difficult to move money from one place to another based on technological need
  • Government management: Management in the public sector is rigid and procedure-heavy, meaning procurement of anything, like new technology, must go through complicated legal processes to get approval.

Old, archaic IT systems are more prone to failure, are hard to maintain, and are seen as a security risk. In 2015 hackers stole millions of federal employees names and information from the US Office of Personnel Management, which used an IT system that was too old to encrypt data.

In the end, even if the American government’s technology is reliable in most places, it’s apparent that it will benefit from updates in terms of efficiency and speed.

Unfortunately, complicated legal processes make this adoption a slow one, meaning our smartphones may just always be, at least slightly, ahead of the game.


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Jennifer Markert