GSA's Roth quizzed over IT modernization fund

Lawmakers are unsure whether the $3.1 billion plan to fund a rolling governmentwide tech refresh is a good bet.

Denise Turner Roth.

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth talked up White House plans for IT modernization at a House appropriations hearing.

Bipartisan skepticism set the tone for a review of the General Services Administration's funding request, even as most lawmakers acknowledged the need for the sort of legacy system modernization included in the agency's budget.

The Obama administration's fiscal 2017 budget request includes $3.1 billion for a revolving Information Technology Modernization fund, which GSA would manage.

"I question the proposed $3 billion in mandatory funding and $100 million in discretionary funding -- for what exactly, we don't know -- because the administration has not formally transmitted legislative language to the Congress," Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said during a Feb. 29 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), agreed that the governmentwide fund is ill-defined and expressed concern that agencies might use it to dodge the appropriations process.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's IT Subcommittee, told FCW last week that the fund could be an important tool for agencies but stressed the duty agencies have to build modernization planning into their own budgets.

Meant to support $12 billion in modernization projects over 10 years, the fund would largely help agencies get over the large upfront costs that come with an ambitious modernization plan, GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth told appropriators. Agencies would keep the fund solvent by paying back savings from successful modernizations in five-year terms, she added.

In addition to funding individual agencies' modernization projects, the fund could help agencies harness shared services or learn from others' experiences instead of modernizing in agency-segregated silos, Roth said.

She did not provide a detailed answer when asked for the source of the $3.1 billion figure but said it generally stemmed from consultations with the Office of Management and Budget after last summer's federal cybersecurity sprint, which highlighted agencies' widespread reliance on hard-to-secure legacy systems.

The appropriations hearing proved to be gentler than previous discussions of the fund.

In a Feb. 25 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) ripped the funding level as "hogwash" and cited the $80 billion annual price tag of federal IT. "To suggest we're just $3 billion away from actually solving this problem is ridiculous," he said.

His committee colleague Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said thorough IT inventories from individual agencies could help the committee get a better sense of the resources those agencies need to modernize.

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