IT Modernization

Will MGT pass before recess?

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

As the Senate grapples with health care legislation , an IT modernization bill that sailed through the House of Representative and enjoys White House support still awaits committee markup.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act, introduced by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and cosponsored by 18 bipartisan lawmakers, passed the House on a voice vote in May -- within three weeks of its 2017 introduction under a slimmed-down score from the Congressional Budget Office.

The White House Office of American Innovation has repeatedly expressed support for the bill, and the Trump administration's budget proposal even carves out $228 million to create a general IT modernization fund.

Despite hope the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee would bring the bill up for consideration by mid or late July, persistent concerns over the funding mechanisms -- as well as other legislative obstacles -- have caused the bill to stall.

Cyrrus Analytics Principal Rich Beutel said that HSGAC is "still talking about doing a markup on the bill at some point before the recess" and that he remains optimistic the bill could pass "as soon as September."

However, to date, no committee markup has been scheduled. A HSGAC spokesperson said that the committee is reviewing the bill -- the same answer provided in response to a reporter question in May.

Part of the frustration, said Beutel, who helped draft the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act legislation as a senior staffer on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is that "I have not heard a detailed or substantive criticism."

"It's just this generic handwringing," he said. "It's all I hear."

One complicating point in the passage of the bill is that the House legislation specifically designates the Technology Transformation Service, established in May 2016 to house the innovation group 18F and the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology, as the home of the central fund.

Since the bill's passage in the House, the General Services Administration's recent reorganization folded TTS into the Federal Acquisition Service.

Mike Hettinger, a former senior House aide who lobbies on behalf of IT vendors, said that the bill will need to be written to move the fund to GSA's administrative level, which would present another procedural hurdle.

"It's more of a technical change than anything, but... long story short, they'd need to pass it again in the House to address those technical changes," he said.

Even if the Senate does address that technical change, there remains the issue of getting appropriators on board with using agency working capital funds as the primary funding mechanism, a feature that Hurd has called "the core part of the MGT Act."

Hettinger added that the Senate's decision to delay its August recess to tackle healthcare legislation could present an opportunity for the chamber to pick up a bipartisan victory in the meantime.

"The longer they're here, the more opportunity they'd have and the more floor time they'd have to move something under unanimous consent," he said.

Beutel agreed, adding the Senate "could decide to get some positive messaging around whatever tatters of bipartisanship remain over something noncontroversial," on the condition that "it depends entirely on whether HSGAC can get [the bill] on a committee mark."

Requests for comment from the offices of Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tom Udall (D-Mich.) -- the MGT Act's Senate sponsors -- about the status of the bill were not immediately returned.

On the House side, an amendment offered by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) to extend provisions of FITARA were adopted late July 12 as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Issa and Connolly sponsored the original FITARA legislation.

The amendment extends FITARA's data center consolidation efforts until October 2020, and it makes permanent reporting requirements for agencies' transparency and risk management as well as annual reviews for agencies' IT investment portfolios.

"Previous major IT reform efforts have fallen short of their potential because of a lack of congressional oversight," Connolly said in a statement. "I will not let that happen with FITARA."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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