New bill calls for agency-specific IT modernization funds

A new bill, which would empower agencies to reprogram funds and bank their own savings, could be an easier sell to appropriators than the White House's plan for a $3.1 billion governmentwide fund.

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A group of lawmakers led by Capitol Hill's resident IT expert is introducing a bill that would enable federal agencies to create their own working capital funds to upgrade and modernize their Information Technology.

The "Modernizing Outdated and Vulnerable Equipment and Information Technology Act of 2016," also known as the "MOVE IT Act," will be introduced on July 14 by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and five other lawmakers, including Democrats Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Ted Lieu (Calif.). Lieu and Hurd are the only two members of Congress with degrees in computer science.

This legislation aims to capitalize on faster acquisition of cloud computing and other modern IT to, as the bill text puts it, "eliminate inappropriate duplication, reduce costs, and address waste, fraud, and abuse in providing Government services that are publicly available."

The bill is intended as an alternative to the White House plan to establish a governmentwide $3.1 billion revolving fund to modernize outdated IT systems. That approach, as detailed in a bill introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in April, would set up a fund at the General Services Administration that is administered by a board and require agencies to apply for funding and then pay the money back with resulting savings.

Hurd's bill calls for IT modernization funds inside agencies.  No appropriations are promised for each agency's "IT working capital fund" -- the idea is for agencies to bank their own savings, and to reprogram funds that otherwise would go to "operation and maintenance of legacy systems."  

The bill "gives agencies the ability to use existing funds," Hurd told FCW. "So some of the concerns folks have is, are the agencies going to actually pay back the money into the modernization fund? This is allowing them to reprogram money thats already in their systems."

Such reprogramming, however, would be allowed "only if transfer authority is specifically provided for by law," the bill text states.   The possibility of agency-specific discretionary appropriations is also held out as a funding option. 

Rich Beutel, a former House Oversight Committee staffer and key drafter of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, told FCW, "the key here is that agency is get to keep their savings instead of giving it back to the Treasury."

Beutel has been working on this bill with Hurd's office, and on a companion cloud bill that will be proposed in the Senate. That bill is coming from Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on July 14. The Senate plans to recess this week and will not return until September so it remains to be seen whether this bill will be taken up in the lame duck session.

The White House proposal could still move as well, according to Beutel. "These two bills are complimentary to each other," Beutel noted. "We think this [MOVE IT Act] is going to be more sellable to the appropriators," he said.

The legislation also entails a series of requirements to assist the FedRAMP program office, so it can be "faster, and more streamlined and more transparent," Beutel said.

The bill calls for a cloud industry liaison group to meet quarterly at GSA, but it expressly exempts the group from the open meeting and other sunshine requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

GCN's Amanda Ziadeh contributed reporting to this article.

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