GOP rep: Void in permanent IT roles won’t hurt modernization push

GOP rep: Void in permanent IT roles won’t hurt modernization push
© Greg Nash

The lack of permanent officials filling top cybersecurity roles in the federal government will not impede a push by the new administration to modernize technology across agencies, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said Friday.

Hurd has led the charge on the Modernizing Government Technology Act, a bill that would create two streams of funding to help agencies transition to less costly, more secure technology. The legislation, which has the White House’s endorsement, has passed the House and Senate as of this month.

There are a number of chief information officers serving in an acting capacity in the Trump administration, which Hurd admitted has been “difficult” nine months into the administration during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Friday.

However, he said that the lack of permanent officials would not impede modernization efforts once the MGT Act officially gets across the finish line. 

“Whether you have an acting or permanent CIO, to me it ultimately doesn’t matter because we are going to continue to shine a light on this issue,” Hurd said.

“And yes, there’s probably some acting CIOs that want to say ‘we’re not going to do anything because someone new is coming in and they’re going to have a different perspective,’” he added.

“Well, after nine months, we’re going to still have you in front of the committee and say, why are you not following up on the plans that were given to you from the previous folks and why are you not implementing some of the good policy that DHS is putting out.” 

Hurd, a former CIA officer, chairs the House Oversight subcommittee on information technology.

“Yes, it would be great to have some of these permanent CIOs, but we have to deal with realities on the ground. I know they’re looking and trying to make it happen,” he added. 

The MGT Act cleared the Senate earlier in September when it was included in the chamber’s version of annual defense policy legislation. However, House and Senate negotiators still need to get together to hammer out a final version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act before approving it and sending it to President Trump’s desk. 

“We’re not going to spike the football yet,” Hurd said Friday. “We still have a little ways to go.”

The Texas lawmaker said that he worked closely on the legislation with the Office of American Innovation, spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Hurd noted that Kushner’s team and the Office of Management and Budget “have been really good partners in making sure we implement this rule, and they have ideas already on how they want to use it.” 

“This is something that is going to give our federal CIOs new tools to do their job,” he said of the MGT Act. 

The federal government has a history of struggling to fill IT and cybersecurity roles throughout departments and agencies. Over the summer, the Trump administration lost a handful of individuals serving in CIO or chief information security officer positions, including the CIO at the Department of Homeland Security, who had been on the job for just a few months.

The federal government is hosting the first ever government-wide event in November to recruit new IT and cyber talent.