Rep. Will Hurd: Making modernization possible

A much-need source of IT expertise on Capitol Hill, the 2018 Government Eagle Award winner was instrumental to making MGT a legislative reality.

Rep. Will Hurd (Photo: Robert Severi for FCW)

The first time Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) realized the depth of the federal government’s IT problems was shortly after he arrived on Capitol Hill in 2015. He was being briefed by staffers from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s IT Subcommittee in advance of a hearing on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.

New to Congress, Hurd asked for background on what the bill did. They told him that the government needed standards for collecting information about its online payments and expenditures.

Hurd, a computer science major who had served as a senior adviser to cybersecurity firm FusionX before being elected to Congress, was stunned. There wasn’t already a standard in place to collect that kind of data?

“That’s 101,” Hurd said. “How do you know how much you’re spending or how much it costs? That was the first time I was like, ‘What the hell?’”

The episode served as a wake-up call and helped kick off a two-year legislative odyssey for Hurd that ended with the passage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act in December 2017. The law gives CIOs the ability to create working capital funds at their agencies to address long-standing IT modernization needs not covered by normal appropriations. It also authorized a $500 million Technology Modernization Fund to be managed by the General Services Administration, with agencies submitting proposals and competing for funding.

In less than three years on the job, Hurd has carved out a role in Congress as a leading voice on government technology issues and someone who is willing to work across party lines. In a town defined by its ability to make virtually any issue partisan or ideological, the MGT Act drew broad bipartisan support — from both the Obama and Trump administrations, Republican leaders and tech-minded Democratic members of Congress such as Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).

Hurd’s passion for the subject is real. He often jokes that when he returns home to his district near San Antonio, there are never any activists holding up signs angrily demanding IT procurement reform.

It was his work conducting oversight of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act that opened his eyes to the extent to which federal CIOs still lacked visibility into and control over their own IT budgets. In Hurd’s view, he couldn’t hold agency CIOs accountable if they didn’t have the tools they needed to do their job. That toolkit starts with budgetary flexibility and a system that doesn’t punish agencies when they implement more efficient IT. Under the MGT Act, when an agency upgrades its technology infrastructure and saves money, those savings can be used to fund future projects.

“That’s why I think the [law] is so important, to give the CIO the ability to modernize and not be negatively impacted for modernizing,” Hurd said. “If you save money [in government], money gets taken away oftentimes. Therefore, you don’t do things that will ultimately save you money.”

NEXT STORY: The 2018 Federal 100

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