A Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday said the federal government is using computer systems that in some cases are "at least 50 years old," and agencies are spending more and more of their technology budgets to keep obsolete systems running.
The GAO cited the Department of Defense's strategic automated command and control system, which, according to the report, "coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces," including the nation's "intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts."
The GAO found the system "runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer—a 1970s computing system— and uses 8-inch floppy disks."
According to the IBM Archives, the Series/1 was "announced on November 16, 1976." The computer had "16K increments of memory from 16,384 to 65,536 bytes."
The system cost between $10,000 and $100,000, depending on the amount of features added to the system.
By comparison, a $549 iPhone 6 comes standard with 16 gigabytes -- or 16 billion bytes -- of memory.
The Defense Department told the GAO it "plans to update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017."
The GAO report says the federal government initiatives to upgrade and improve technology have "too frequently failed or incurred cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes."
"The federal government has spent billions of dollars on failed and poorly performing IT investments which often suffered from ineffective management, such as project planning, requirements definition, and program oversight and governance."
The GAO found that in 2015, the government spent $80 billion on technology, with the majority -- $61 billion -- spent on operations and maintenance of existing systems.
Just over $19 billion was spent on upgrades and enhancements, a decline of $7.3 billion since 2010.
The GAO criticized federal agencies for continuing to spend money maintaining systems that "are becoming increasingly obsolete."
The report noted that several agencies, including the Treasury Department, and Homeland Security "reported using Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL)—a programming language developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s—to program their legacy systems."
A report from the Gartner Group recommended federal agencies replace systems running COBOL by 2010.
The GAO noted that some agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, "reported re-hiring retired employees to maintain its COBOL systems."
Continuing to use obsolete programs doesn't just raise maintenance costs. The GAO also said such systems also create "security vulnerabilities," because the programs' original manufacturers no longer support them.
The Defense, Treasury, and Health and Human Services, for example, "reported using 1980s and 1990s Microsoft operating systems that stopped being supported by the vendor more than a decade ago."
The Office of Management and Budget has drafted an initiative calling on government agencies to assess their technology spending.
But the GAO warns that until that initiative is finalized, "the federal government runs
the risk of continuing to maintain investments that have outlived their
effectiveness and are consuming resources that outweigh their benefits."