Fate of MGT unclear as Senate revs up to pass NDAA

The Senate will likely vote on the must-pass defense spending bill Monday, but the long-sought modernization fund could end up on the cutting room floor.

capitol dome

The Modernizing Government Technology Act’s ride as an amendment the National Defense Authorization Act may get cut short.

MGT, which creates a $500 million fund over two years for federal agencies to use when updating legacy systems to cloud and managed services, is one of several amendments proposed for the must-pass defense authorization bill. The House passed a stand-alone version of the bill in May, but did not include MGT in its version of the NDAA.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly, 84-9, to invoke cloture and end debate on the NDAA on Sept. 14, which tees up a final vote on the bill for Monday, Sept. 18. But sources familiar with the Senate negotiations say that MGT isn’t in the latest version of the bill, and MGT may have to pass as a standalone.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said untimely, uncertain and inadequate defense spending has “stunted” modernization efforts.

“This week, as the bill has been on the floor, I have worked together with my colleague [Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)] to incorporate over 100 amendments from senators on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said in a statement following the cloture vote. “Between now and final passage, it is my hope that we can agree on another package of amendments to strengthen this legislation even further.”

Sources told FCW the MGT bill’s sponsors pushed to have it added to final bill, but it hasn’t made the cut so far. (The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, which requires most agencies to publish available data in a machine-readable format that can be readily accessed by the public, was added under the Manager’s amendment Thursday.)

“It’s my fervent hope that [the MGT] amendment would be agreed to,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, a lobbying group for government services contractors.

“The kicker, and this is what I have to verify, the modified amendment introduced was governmentwide," Chvotkin said. "The Senate’s invoking of cloture to shut off the debate on the NDAA -- that action has the effect of imposing a germaneness rule in the Senate.”

That means that NDAA sponsors McCain and Reed get to determine whether the MGT is relevant to the passing of the bill, he said. The post-cloture environment means that MGT can’t be considered if it hasn’t been adopted already. McCain and Reed, however, determine germaneness and could adopt the original amendment proposed by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

Earlier this week Texas Rep. Will Hurd (R) seemed sure it would move as an NDAA amendment through the Senate.

“Don't live tweet this, but [MGT is] going to be put on the NDAA of the Senate this week and ... hopefully become law," Hurd said during his Sept. 13 speech at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit. "It'll be another tool for CIOs to use in order to modernize their system.”

The challenge, Hurd said, will be convincing Congress that modernization that is costly upfront is worth the investment when savings from improved efficiency happen only later.

“The infrastructure in the federal government are so big that realizing savings and doing something like modernizing -- and being able to realize that savings in that same calendar year -- is next to impossible,” Hurd said.   But he stressed that “federal CIOs need to have the flexibility to purchase the IT services they need in order to defend our digital infrastructure, in order to be efficient."

The NDAA is generally considered to be must-pass legislation, but the bill has additional hurdles to clear after the Senate vote. Before becoming law, Senate and House members will have to confer to resolve differences over amendments such as the total cost of the bill and an e-commerce provision that allows government agencies to buy commercial goods through online marketplaces like Amazon.

And if the MGT has to pass on its own, PSC’s Chvotkin said, it’s strong enough to stand alone.

“I think the chances are very good,” he said. “And the modified text as an amendment reflects an agreement between the homeland security committee, the appropriations committee and the White House on what an MGT Act ought to look like.”

Note: This article was updated on Sept. 15 to correct an editing error regarding the House version of the NDAA. 

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