Lawmakers move swiftly on IT modernization

Lawmakers move swiftly on IT modernization
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Lawmakers are working quickly on legislation intended to accelerate the federal government’s transition to modern, more secure information technology systems.

A key House panel advanced a bipartisan bill Tuesday that creates two streams of agency funding to incentivize the transition to new technology that is more secure and cheaper to maintain.

The latest bill carries White House approval and is aligned with the Trump administration’s efforts to make headway on IT modernization, giving Republicans in Congress extra incentive to move quickly on the legislation.

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The House Oversight Committee’s unanimous approval of the measure came just days after a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced the new version of the Modernizing Government Technology Act.

That legislative effort passed the House last session before bumping into Senate concerns about its cost. 

The bill now moves to the House, where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has promised to bring it up for a floor vote soon.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) indicated Tuesday that the White House's Office of American Innovation, run by President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, played a role in the new effort.

“This is something that we’ve been working on with the Office of American Innovation at the White House in order to give these tools to our [chief information officers],” Hurd, a cosponsor of the bill, said Tuesday at an Adobe forum in Washington.

Trump has tasked the office with creating a task force on modernizing government services and information technology. On Monday, Trump also established the American Technology Council to help streamline the federal government’s use of information technology. 

White House officials said they were “excited” by the bill on Friday, predicting it would “enable significant progress to be made towards creating a more effective, efficient, and accountable government for all Americans.”

The IT modernization bill would set up a fund for agencies to borrow money for modernization efforts, which would later be repaid by the savings from transitioning to the new technology. The bill would also allow agencies to keep the money they save from replacing legacy systems and moving to cloud computing and spend them within three years.

The new bill is almost identical to the version introduced last year, apart from changes designed to decrease its cost. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) priced the measure at $3 billion last year.

The bill caps the modernization fund at $250 million annually for two years and gives agencies five years to pay back borrowed funds.

The bill was introduced by Hurd, along with Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyFirst federal agency gets 'A' grade in IT report card Washingtonians take center stage at Will on the Hill Dem rep: Abuse, violence against the press 'hallmarks in Trump era' MORE (D-Va.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) in the House and Sens. Jerry MoranJerry MoranProposal to privatize air traffic control struggles to win over critics Senate panel to reject Trump’s air traffic control plan in aviation bill Senate panel readies must-pass aviation bill MORE (R-Kan.), Tom UdallTom UdallDems, greens press Trump administration on methane rewrites Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to roll back Dodd-Frank | Sage grouse back in the spotlight | GOP chair won't back Glass-Steagall revival Overnight Tech: FCC disputes reporter's account of 'manhandling' incident | Verizon to cut 2K jobs at Yahoo | Russians used spyware on Instagram | Virginia moves on 5G networks MORE (D-N.M.) and Mark WarnerMark WarnerElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Are Democrats trying to pin the blame for their own sins on Russia? Policymakers forget duty to protect taxpayers from financial failures MORE (D-Va.) in the Senate.

Kelly told The Hill that she hopes it gets a floor vote as soon as possible. The congresswoman said she intends to introduce legislation later this year that would control critical access points to the federal network to further boost cybersecurity.

“We cannot continue to ignore the need to modernize our outdated and insecure IT infrastructure,” Kelly said. “We can and must do more.”

Industry representatives described the new legislation as a first step in improving the federal government’s efficiency and cybersecurity.

“This is a long time coming. The last real tech refresh was for Y2K,” Christian Marrone, chief of staff at IT services company CSRA, told The Hill. “The efforts that the administration is making combined with this could be a real powerful force to really modernize the government’s outdated IT systems, which are the backbone of our departments and agencies in the federal government.”

“With the onslaught of cyber incidents and all, we really need to have systems that are not only functional but are state of the art, that can do a lot to enhance operations, enhance decision-making but are also secure,” Marrone, a former official at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, continued.

“The only way you can get there is truly through modernizing systems across the federal space.”

Lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized the need for the federal government to adopt more secure IT, often pointing to the massive Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach that was blamed on its legacy systems.

“The fact that now OPM is a household name in the United States of America is a problem,” Hurd said Tuesday.

Federal agencies are estimated to spend 80 percent of funds allotted for IT on maintaining legacy systems.

This story has been updated.