Congress

IT agenda teed up for 2014

US Capitol

With a late-year push for a budget and a defense bill, Congress managed to avoid the tag of being historically unproductive, but fights over core issues such as spending and the health care overhaul pushed more pedestrian policy measures to the sidelines. Here’s a look at three key IT policy areas legislators took up in 2013, and how they might play out next year.

IT ACQUISITION

The troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov in October gave federal IT acquisition unprecedented attention from media and politicians, with President Barack Obama referring to systemic problems with federal IT in discussions about HealthCare.gov. The push to pass the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act made it nearly to the finish line. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and backed by Demcoratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia would be the most ambitious update to federal IT acquisition laws since the Clinger-Cohen Act, which established the CIO position. FITARA passed the House as part of the defense authorization bill, but was stripped out by committee chairs looking to present a clean bill to Congress for swift passage late in the year.

The bill is likely to be reintroduced in some form next year. One congressional aide told FCW that, “Chairman Issa is optimistic a stand-alone bill addressing critical IT procurement reforms will move forward in both houses next year.”

The Senate is taking a more piecemeal approach to IT reform. Sen. Tom Udall introduced a bipartisan bill that would change CIO authorities and procurement of off-the-shelf technologies. A proposed defense bill amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) would have required the federal government to pursue data consolidation strategies. It’s possible that she’ll reintroduce that bill as a stand-alone measure. The two pieces taken together cover much of the same ground as FITARA.

CHINA SOURCING

IT vendors are looking to eliminate language in a House spending bill that would place restrictions on acquiring IT software and hardware produced by companies with links to the Chinese government and military. The restrictions were included in the continuing resolution that funded the government in fiscal 2013, and are teed up to be considered again in the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill that funds the departments of Justice and  Commerce and most science programs.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee is a key architect of the restrictions. He announced Dec. 17 that he would not be seeking re-election to his House seat. This sets up some potentially interesting political scenarios for the reauthorization of the restrictions. It’s possible that his supporters in the House will back  inclusion of the restrictions in the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill, which has been reported out of Wolf’s subcommittee. But it’s also possible that lawmakers will lean more toward the Senate language, which would implement risk-based supply chain security measures, rather than country-specific restrictions. Additionally, with the fiscal 2014 spending bills set to proceed under regular order, lawmakers will have more opportunities to offer amendments. It’s not clear how the debate is going to play out, but there are early signs that vendors are gearing up for a full court press to eliminate the restrictions from the next round of appropriations.

SURVEILLANCE

Lawmakers have drafted dozens of bills covering communications surveillance in the wake of disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Of those, two competing measures will likely provide structure to the ongoing debate about data collection on U.S. residents by the intelligence community.

A measure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, would provide a path for spy agencies to obtain authorization to maintain databases of telephonic and email metadata, and allow agencies to search those databases for potential threats. The bill has the backing of Feinstein’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), and it is generally supportive of surveillance tactics used by intelligence agencies before the spate of leaks that brought them to public attention. The bill was approved by Feinstein’s committee in October and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

Civil libertarians on both sides of the aisle are coalescing around another measure, introduced by  James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in the House and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate. Their proposal is far more restrictive than the legislation developed in the Intelligence Committee. The measure would eliminate bulk data collection by the intelligence community on U.S. networks, and require the government to submit to new standards of relevance and reasonable suspicion when seeking information on communications on American soil. The bill hasn’t been discussed in committee yet, but it promises to be a hot button issue once Congress returns from its holiday recess.

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