Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08) introduced the Grace Hopper Code for Us Act, which would help train people for in-demand information technology (IT) jobs, while addressing the shortage of professionals with a background in older coding languages needed to maintain and modernize critical government IT systems.
Older coding languages continue to underpin major sectors of our economy. For example, COBOL – although developed more than 60 years ago – remains widely used across several sectors of our economy, including government and financial services. Yet, IT workers skilled in COBOL largely are reaching retirement age as computer science institutions have shifted towards training in newer languages, resulting in a shortage of skilled workers with knowledge of legacy languages still in use.
Named for a pioneering computer scientist who developed COBOL, the Grace Hopper Code for Us Act would bolster and diversify the pipeline of workers with the skills necessary to sustain and modernize critical IT infrastructure utilizing legacy languages such as COBOL.
“A lot of sectors are seeing a mismatch between the skills workers have and what employers need. Training workers for jobs that are in demand now is key to getting more people back to work and continuing our economic recovery,” said Rep. Cartwright. “When it comes to IT, that mismatch was painfully clear as government agencies struggled to keep their computer systems using older coding languages running during the pandemic. The Grace Hopper Code for Us Act will help prepare workers for good-paying jobs available now in maintaining and modernizing our critical government and private sector information systems.”
Government IT systems using legacy coding languages were overwhelmed amid the pandemic-driven surge in demand for economic relief, such as unemployment insurance. Having a workforce equipped to manage such systems is not only critical to be able to maintain and service current IT issues, workers with those skills are also needed to update and improve systems that run on legacy languages.
This legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), Darren Soto (D-FL-09), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC-01), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17) and Alma Adams (D-NC-12).
"Information systems is an invaluable part of the information technology field, and early exposure can increase interest. This bill will increase the recruitment pipeline starting at grade six and allow more associate degree and continuing education opportunities in this sector. The interdisciplinary education approach will be key to future successes of the field," said Congresswoman Hayes.
“The importance of IT professionals cannot be understated, especially given the weaknesses the COVID-19 pandemic showed in government IT systems,” said Congressman Darren Soto. “Lack of IT infrastructure can ultimately impact the government's ability to respond in the time of a crisis, and skilled IT professionals can help ensure our preparedness. The Grace Hopper Code for Us Act will greatly diversify and strengthen the field of IT professionals, as well as our IT infrastructure.”
“The persistent lack of diversity in the tech industry is a key problem that amplifies several issues requiring our attention and focus,” said Congressman G. K. Butterfield, who serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ TECH2025 initiative. “We must do everything in our power to help prepare students from underrepresented groups for careers in STEAM fields. Congress must act to strengthen the pipeline and clear pathways to these careers, especially in those occupations that require the use of long-standing computer programming languages such as COBOL. It is imperative that we include many of our best and brightest problem solvers, critical thinkers, and those that challenge conventional thinking, who are seldom included, to help bolster a workforce that manages the information technology systems many government organizations utilize. I commend Congressman Matt Cartwright for his leadership, and I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us.”
Specifically, the Grace Hopper Code for Us Act would:
- Establish the Grace Hopper Sustainment and Modernization Grant Program to create programming courses focused on maintaining and modernizing information systems utilizing legacy computer languages;
- Provide a total of $100 million in competitive grant funding to institutions of higher learning over four years;
- Encourage grant recipients to utilize grant money to provide scholarships, arrange paid internship opportunities and engage local students about career opportunities involving legacy languages; and
- Prioritize grant applicants that recruit women and other underrepresented groups.
This legislation is endorsed by Alabama A&M University, Anglepoint Academy, Bethany College, BMC Software, Broadcom, Citi, COBOL Cowboys, Compuware, East Carolina University, Ensono, Farmingdale State College, First Citizens Bank, IBM, Interskill Learning, Linux Foundation, Micro Focus, North Carolina AT&T State University, Open Mainframe Project (including its COBOL Working Group), Optimized Technical Solutions, Inc., Phase Change Software, ProTech Enterprise IT Training & Consulting, Robert Morris University, Society for Women Engineers, Superior Welding Supply Co., Talladega College Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Alabama – Birmingham, University of Maryland – Eastern Shore and Vicom Infinity, Inc.
“From bridges to IT systems, all forms of infrastructure are vital to the economy and must be properly maintained. In the IT world, many of the longest-serving and most critical IT systems are based on the COBOL programming language, known for its robustness and scalability. However, inadequate investment over time has introduced risk to those systems, purely due to investment levels, rather than the programming language. Time and again, projects and studies concur the best way to meet future need is to evolve, rather than replace, those systems. Just as reliable stone bridges don’t need to be torn down solely to be rebuilt in steel, neither should COBOL systems be torn down solely to change the programming language. Instead, they need appropriate investment to renew and modernize to support the challenges of the digital era. Micro Focus fully supports the Grace Hopper Code for Us Act, as it will support a new generation of COBOL enthusiasts, with the skills to support the necessary modernization programs for the long term success of our economy’s IT infrastructure,” said Misty Decker, Product Marketing Director, Micro Focus.
Text of the legislation can be viewed HERE.