IT modernization bill reintroduced in Congress

IT modernization bill reintroduced in Congress
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has reintroduced a bill aimed at modernizing federal information technology, returning focus to an issue Congress attempted to tackle last year.

The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act provides two funding channels for the purchase of new IT equipment that would be cheaper to run and more secure.

The legislation allows agencies to borrow money from a general modernization fund that is repaid with the savings from new equipment. It also allows agencies to keep any money saved by funding new technology within current budgets.

The bill passed the House in the waning days of the previous Congress last year, but not the Senate after it hit an unexpected snag in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO had treated money that was repaid to the fund by agencies as new appropriations under the logic that all repaid money would first go to the Treasury before being appropriated back to the fund.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHistory in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week Democrat grills DHS chief over viral image of drowned migrant and child Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (D-Va.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) in the House, and Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrats object to Interior plans to move BLM out west Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment MORE (D-N.M.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Kan.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Va.) in the Senate.

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Connolly told The Hill that the bill is fundamentally the same as the last one but with workarounds to address the CBO's concerns, which he still does not agree with.

"At the end of the day, what CBO did was really twisted logic," Connolly said. "It's like saying that if you pay me back 50 cents after I loaned you a dollar, it really cost me $1.50."

Around 80 percent of federal spending on IT goes to maintaining legacy systems, some more than 50 years old. 

Connolly predicts that with a little "missionary work" the bill is likely to pass the House and Senate.

"Some people don't find the concept of return on investment intuitive, but we can convince them," he said.

Both components of the MGT Act – the general fund and allowing agencies to keep money they save through new IT – were once different bills. The IT modernization fund was a priority of the Obama administration, while the other half was originally introduced by Hurd. When the two merged into one bill, it almost immediately passed through the House. 

“We’ve been fighting to get this bill signed into law because the American people deserve better from their government," Hurd said in a statement. "A move towards modern technologies can keep our information and digital infrastructure secure from cyberattacks, while saving billions of taxpayer dollars."

While it did not pass, it became a signature proposal for Hurd. 

The MGT Act has gotten praise from the private sector as a necessary step in securing public systems. 

"Congressman Hurd deserves credit for his continued push to get this bill done in the new Congress and working with stakeholders to lower the cost of the bill while requiring modernization of legacy IT systems across the federal enterprise," said Adobe vice president and public sector chief technology officer John Landwehr in a statement.

"We appreciate Congressman Hurd’s continued leadership on this issue, along with all of the co-sponsors of this bill, and encourage Congress to work together in a bipartisan manner to enact this important legislation that will result in immediate and meaningful improvements."