U.S. Secret Service computers function only 60% of the time; Agency relies on 1980s IBM mainframe

“A classified review of the United States Secret Service’s computer technology found that the agency’s computers were fully operational only 60 percent of the time because of outdated systems and a reliance on a computer mainframe that dates to the 1980s, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn,” Jason Ryan reports for ABC News. “‘We have here a premiere law enforcement organization in our country which is responsible for the security of the president and the vice president and other officials of our government, and they have to have better IT than they have,’ said Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.”

“Sources tell ABC News that the Secret Service was so plagued by computer problems that the agency invited the National Security Agency to formally review its information technology systems. The Secret Service’s databases are outdated and users are at times unable to conduct searches from one system to another,” Ryan reports. “Lieberman says he’s had ‘concern for a while’ about the Secret Service computers. A 60 percent, fully operational average is far worse than ‘industry and government standards that are around 98 percent generally,’ Lieberman said.”

“According to officials at the time of the review, the unofficial cost estimate to update the system was $187 million. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service, has so far allocated $69 million, including $36 million in the department’s most recent budget request,” Ryan reports. “The DHS budget justification for 2011 noted, ‘The Secret Service data environment is fragile and cannot sustain the tempo of current or future operational missions. The existing hardware infrastructure is more than 5 years old and is prone to failures.'”

Ryan reports, “The recent scrutiny the agency faced after three individuals were able to attend a state dinner without being invited, were not attributable to any computer deficiencies at the Secret Service, according to officials.”

Ryan reports, “A Secret Service contracting memo from Oct. 16, 2009, reviewed by ABC News found, ‘Currently, 42 mission-oriented applications run on a 1980s IBM mainframe with a 68 percent performance reliability rating. Networks, data systems, applications, and IT security do not meet current operational requirements. The IT systems lack appropriate bandwidth to run multiple applications to effectively support USSS offices and operational missions around the world.’ …Asked why DHS was requesting less money than the initial estimate of $187 million, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said, ‘Part of it is an assessment of how much it would actually cost and also what can be purchased and what is needed on a priority basis.'”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: $187 million, or even just $69 million, will buy you quite a few Xserves, Mac Pros, and MacBook Pros. Hint, hint…


  1. Not surprising. All the government stuff is usually awarded to the ‘lowest bidder’. That means the crappiest. Except for the $600 toilet seats. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

  2. It’s certainly not the mainframe’s fault. Those systems are certified to have up to 99.999% uptime. That is why banks use them. Of course, if you have poor developers or an incompetent IT operations staff, that is something IBM can’t be held responsible for…

  3. Who cares if every single entry is directly related to Mac. Grow up! Or at least shut up!

    I’m not surprised that their computer systems are so old. Most governmental agencies tend to upgrade their computers only as-needed and the budget is mainly directed to training and other types of equipment. Computers are generally the lowest priority.

  4. How about you talk to someone in the Secret Service Al Gore and earn your place on Apple’s board!!! Why are you there Al if you can’t at least do that!?! Don’t you have a few guys following you around all the time Al? Do you know that they work with those people?

  5. @Dutch – Considering that those mainframes are 25-30 years old now, I think the uptime guarantee is done. I’d say they’re lucky to get the 60%.

    I agree with the MDN take. I think they’d be well off buying X-Serves and iMacs or Minis for the staff. Maybe even a full time Mac programmer to custom design software for them. They are certainly large enough to warrant it.

  6. Things were bad enough when Secret Service was under Treasury. But it’s only gotten worse under Homeland Security. Lieberman supported the creation of DHS after 9/11 (I, as a longtime federal employee, argued it was a mistake), and it’s resulted in what’s recognized as the government’s most dysfunctional department. And Napolitano’s lack of security experience and leadership incompetence just makes things worse.

    IT in a lot of federal agencies, even in those who most need it, often leaves much to be desired. The FBI has had long standing problems in that area, and botched several major IT upgrades. My old agency (part of Treasury) wasn’t as bad, but fighting the Windows beast was a losing proposition. (I did, however, manage to get an Xserve/Xraid to store one of our large databases.)

  7. @Ankh,

    Those weren’t toilet seats. They were toilet COVERS for B-1 bombers, designed and made especially for those aircraft. Have you ever wondered what would happen to the contents of a toilet on a combat aircraft if it ever needed to perform evasive maneuvers? Wouldn’t be a pretty sight, so they designed covers to keep the nasty stuff where it was supposed to stay.

    I used to work briefly for one of the guys that worked on that contract, and he explained the situation to me.

    You couldn’t go to Home Depot and buy those covers, like Proxmire’s aide did for the prop they waved in front of the cameras.

  8. For those who think “Government’s” role in health care spending is minimal, I’m sure they would be surprised to learn that government (federal, state and local government) spending amounts to 46% of all spending on US health care.

    If you don’t want “government” messing with your health care-it’s too late.

  9. While I’d love to see them switch to Mac and Xserves, I suspect the greatest impediment (and cost) would be having to reprogram all of the applications. They’re probably all tied into some dBase-oriented file systems (or worse, Access).

    Though, I’m sure a good Mac development team could bang out a crack system for them for considerably less than IBM could, and have it more secure to boot. (pun intended) ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

    Well, we can dream, I suppose.

  10. And why doesn’t Apple send some reps to the Secret Service and do some decent marketing work here? Apple needs to be pro-active in some cases and not just for reps in K-12 either.

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