IT funding bill survives NDAA conference

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

The Modernizing Government Technology Act continued its long churn through Congress, as the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed Nov. 8 that the bill made it out of House-Senate conference as part of for the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

The NDAA passed the Senate in September 2017 with MGT as an amendment. A staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed to FCW that the amendment is identical to the version that passed in the Senate.

The massive defense funding bill clocks in at a total of $700 billion in spending – or about $26 billion more in military spending than requested by the White House. Funding is split between $634 billion for the Pentagon and nuclear programs at the Energy Department, and $65.7 for overseas contingency operations, mostly going to Iraq and Afghanistan. The remainder includes defense programs at other agencies, including the FBI.

The bill also busts the spending cap set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Legislation lifting the cap would have to pass before the bill can go forward for another round of votes in the House and Senate on the final package.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who drafted the MGT Act, told attendees at a government technology conference in October that he expects Congress to pass the NDAA – and by extension MGT – in December.

Federal IT leaders also have been anticipating the bill's movement through Congress and have expressed eagerness to take the law's working capital fund out for a test drive. In October, acting federal CIO Margie Graves said agencies will be ready to execute when MGT passes.

"[A]s soon as passage comes for that -- and if there's money attached to it, we are preparing accordingly. We're working with agencies to put together appropriate business cases," said Graves.

The NDAA also includes a procurement measure designed to make it easier for defense officials to buy off-the-shelf goods without the headaches of drawn-out acquisition plans.

The Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act, initially proposed by Thornberry and inserted into the House NDAA, would authorize the General Services Administration to develop online e-commerce portals to allow DOD and other federal agencies to buy basic commercial products, rather than going through regular GSA schedules.

A summary of the conference report explained that, "the bottom line is that the Department is rarely able to buy off-the-shelf items quickly and at a reasonable price. The solution is obvious to most consumers – allow the government to use online commercial sites like Amazon, Grainger, Staples, or Walmart just as businesses do. These portals function like mini-marketplaces, ensuring that the buyer gets the best price without a lot of red tape. Using these portals has the added benefit of allowing DOD to track and analyze procurement data. Any business will tell you that this 'spend analysis' is critical to efficient operations. For the government, that kind of transparency and accountability would be revolutionary."

Some critics have dubbed the measure "the Amazon amendment" and argued that the language is written in a way that would leave large third-party marketplace sellers, such as Amazon and Walmart, as the only eligible suppliers.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.


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