IT modernization bill passes House

IT modernization bill passes House
© Greg Nash

A bill to fund agency efforts to modernize IT equipment has passed the House.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act, headed by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and backed by Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDems resurface Flynn's 'lock her up' comments after Mueller charges Virginia Dem jokes: ‘I am probably not interested’ in being Time’s 'Person of the Year' Lights, camera, SCOTUS MORE (D-Va.) and Robyn Kelly (D-Ill.), passed via voice vote Wednesday afternoon.

It provides two channels of funding that agencies can use to upgrade aging technology, which is generally considered to be less secure and more expensive to run than new technology. 

"Bad actors repeatedly target the federal government," said Connolly from the floor. "Those attacks often succeed because federal computer systems are so outdated that they cannot implement network defenses as basic as encryption."

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The bill is the amalgam of two bills from 2016 — Hurd's MoveIT bill that allowed agencies to keep any money they saved by buying more cost efficient technology and an Obama administration-backed modernization fund to loan money for upgrades. Agencies would repay those funds using the savings from new technology. Both ideas are present in the resulting bill.

A version of the bill that passed the House in 2016 stalled in the Senate due to its Congressional Budget Office score, something the bill's backers disputed. For instance, the CBO figured that any loan payments would go through the Treasury Department, meaning every dollar repaid by agencies counted as a new appropriation. 

The CBO took a more conventional stance on repaying loans this time around and the modernization fund was dropped from a multi-billion dollar venture to a maximum of $250 million a year. Both shrunk the CBO score.

Multiple systems in the government date back more than 30 years, with some as old as 50. But even more recent out of date technology costs more to maintain than up to date technology. 

Old technology is harder to secure, with many government systems hard-coded in ways now known to contain security flaws. 

The bill gets good reviews from security companies. 

"As we look at the acceleration of attacks, especially over this weekend, making sure the government has appropriate IT is critical," said Candace Worley, chief technical strategist for McAfee.  

A sibling bill in the Senate is headed by Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP in furious push for tax-reform votes Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday MORE (R-Kans.).