MGT Act headed for House vote with slimmed-down CBO score

Will Hurd 

The Congressional Budget Office lowered the price tag on Rep. Will Hurd's MGT Act, from $3 billion to $500 million.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act appears poised to pass in the House of Representatives this week after receiving a favorable score from the Congressional Budget Office.

The bill, which establishes a governmentwide IT modernization fund and authorizes revolving funds for IT upgrades at 24 federal agencies, will cost $500 million to implement, according to the CBO score released on May 12.

The bill is due for a vote on the House floor under suspension of the rules on the morning of May 17. Under suspension, a two-thirds majority is required to pass the bill.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) touted the bill at a May 12 event in San Francisco hosted by Politico.

"All of us as taxpayers spend $80 billion a year on technology in government. Eighty percent of that goes to legacy programs," McCarthy said. "We could save a great amount of money, we could be much more effective, and more importantly, we could be much more accountable."

A more ambitious version of the MGT Act passed the House in the last session of Congress, but prospects for passage in the Senate sank after the bill was saddled with a $9 billion CBO score.

Rich Beutel, who helped draft the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act as a legislative staffer, said that the new CBO score improved the chances of the current bill passing -- not just because of the lower dollar amount, but because the bill is not subject to spending offset requirements.

Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the key sponsors of the bill, "worked hard with CBO to bring down the score," said Beutel.

"But even more impressive is that CBO agreed to exempt MGT form the so called pay-go requirements that would have otherwise required the legislation to find an equivalent offset from existing expenditures," Beutel said. "This makes passage of the legislation through the House on Wednesday much easier."

The previous legislation called for a $3 billion revolving fund to span several years, with agencies paying back savings to be reused by other agencies. Sponsors hoped that a $3 billion upfront investment could generate $12 billion in modernization activity. The CBO's take was that the reuse of repaid funds constituted more spending, not savings, hence the $9 billion score in 2016.

"We are pleased to have resolved the misunderstanding in costs of the MGT Act with the [CBO]," Connolly told FCW in an email. "Building off of FITARA, this bill actually saves the government money by modernizing IT systems. The new CBO score more accurately represents the effects the legislation will have on agency IT budgets. I look forward to passage of this bill later this week."

Mike Hettinger, formerly the staff director of the House Oversight committee, said the key to lowering the score was "putting the actual amount you want in the bill." He said that change "gives CBO something concrete to look at."

The reduction of the central fund from $3 billion to $500 million means that much of the activity under the bill will have to take place at agencies. The bill is structured to offer incentives to agency leaders to take on modernization projects covered by the bill, giving them the ability to bank savings achieved by tech refreshes for up to three years, rather than return the money to the Treasury.

Still, agencies and appropriators alike will have to prioritize IT modernization in a constrained budget environment.

"Some will take advantage of it, others won't," Hurd told FCW when he reintroduced the bill in April.

The bill has backing in the Senate from a bipartisan team of appropriators, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), but it's not clear yet if the measure will get a hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, or if it has a path to a vote of the full Senate.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Tue, May 16, 2017 John Weiler, IT-AAC Alexandria, VA

CBO's restructuring of the Business Case and ROI data takes into account the real cost of not investing in legacy replacements. This was missing in the first assessment that missed its mark.

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