IT modernization fund passes House hurdle

The Modernizing Government Technology Act, which includes a $500 million IT fund, passed the House of Representatives this week on a voice vote, but the Senate outlook is less certain.

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The Modernizing Government Technology Act passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote on May 17. The bill establishes a $500 million central fund to support rapid IT modernization and authorizes working capital funds at 24 large agencies that can be used to pay for IT modernization. Agencies can bank any savings they enjoy for use on further IT projects.

"This approach eliminates the traditional use-it-or-lose-it approach that has plagued government technology for decades," said lead sponsor Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) in remarks in support of the bill.

Co-sponsor Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) noted that updating legacy systems will help the federal government avoid "the chaos and havoc that sophisticated cyberattacks can and do wreak."

"Bad actors repeatedly target our federal government," Connolly said. "Those attacks often succeed because federal computer systems are so outdated that they cannot implement network defenses as basic as encryption. Some legacy systems go back a half a century," he said.

The bill had support from leadership on both sides of the aisle; Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke on behalf of the bill in the House in advance of the vote.

If the bill becomes law, it will still need the support of appropriators and the administration to designate money for the central fund and the agency funds.

"I hope the Trump administration will include investment to capitalize this new fund in their fiscal 2018 budget," Hoyer said.

The bill now moves to the Senate. Two appropriators, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), are sponsoring a companion version. It's unclear when or if the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will take up the bill.

Acting Federal CIO Margie Graves said the MGT Act "cleared a major hurdle" by getting a favorable Congressional Budget Office score, but she declined to speculate on the bill's Senate prospects.  "We'll continue that conversation," she said at a May 17 innovation event hosted by FedScoop, "and we'll hope that all is going to go well."

Graves did say, however, that other efforts within the administration are laying the groundwork for modernization and would be ready if and when the MGT Act becomes law.  The recently signed  executive order on cybersecurity, for example, tasks agencies with producing risk management reports for their systems.  Those reports, Graves said, will "show us where we should go … on the shared services that are probably going to be the most advantageous and to show which cloud services we should pursue first."

Similarly, Graves said, the Office of Management and Budget has been working with agencies for months "to develop a criteria of what a good business case looks like."  That effort has been piloted with five different agencies, and a draft memo that was first circulated in October continues to be refined. 

"We didn't want to release it absent the legislation itself," Graves told reporters at the event, but OMB intends to continue "testing the waters" while waiting to see what comes out of Congress.   

"We've been preparing for this for a long time," Graves said. “And regardless of whether there's ultimately a central fund or efforts must be funded agency by agency,” she noted, "you're still going to have to do it."