Tech refresh bills will be back, says DHS CIO

Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit. 

Even though an IT reform bill that promised billions for agencies to spruce up their operations didn't make it through Congress, the need to create some kind of fund to help agencies modernize their aging IT infrastructures isn't going away and CIOs had better stick to their preparations to dip into it, said the CIO of the Department of Homeland Security.

"The [IT Modernization Fund legislation] will resurface," DHS CIO Luke McCormack said, even though the most recent effort to provide a revolving multibillion IT modernization fund stalled in the Senate after passing in the House of Representatives in September on a voice vote.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act authorized agencies to reprogram funds, with the approval of congressional appropriators, to modernize legacy IT systems. The bill also included a key plank of the Obama administration's ITMF proposal to create a governmentwide revolving fund for high-priority modernization efforts, with agencies paying back advances on IT upgrades through their cost savings.

The plan also called for a board to ensure that an agency applying for funds was approaching the renovation intelligently. That kind of shrewd approach, McCormack said, should guide ongoing modernization efforts and funding opportunities. "I won't dole out funds to an agency that is not prepared to spend it in a modern environment," McCormack said in a speech to Washington Technology's DHS Industry Day event on Dec. 15.

The adoption of cloud services and modular and agile software development techniques would play into whether modernization projects should get funding, McCormack said.

A more modern approach to IT procurement and deployment comes as  millennials work their way into agency workforces, he said. The "jambalaya" mix of millennials and other more traditional workers at DHS is beginning to create a rich stew of technological and managerial approaches.

That mix is contributing to the agency's approach of spreading out new, faster contracting vehicles, such as its $1.5 billion Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland  contract, he said. With such contracts, DHS is looking to small, more agile and non-traditional suppliers for off-the-shelf, shared services or purpose-built services and systems, rather than singular big contracts. "If you're a big integrator, think small," he said.

"The next two to three years, its phones, drones and automobiles," McCormick said. Applications will become more mobile and interconnected as missions among components dictate. "We're a mobile workforce," he said. As such, the agency is beginning to put applications out for mobile platforms before it deploys desktop versions. "That will be standard in the next two to three years," he said.

Components like Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration are reorganizing how they acquire systems and services to be able to react more quickly to mission needs.

Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner and chief acquisition officer at CPB said ongoing organizational change will make buying mission-critical systems more efficient.

Each of CBP's mission elements, from border protection to its trade facilitation operations, is getting a component acquisition executive that can help with issues of acquisitions within that operation.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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