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Agencies one step closer to getting modern IT ... again

May 17, 2017 (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Even in polarized Washington, the odds for bipartisan support of the Modernizing Government Technology Act were never slim.

The House passed the information technology modernization bill by a voice vote on May 17, sending it back to the Senate after the 2016 version of the bill stalled late last year.

“We have some young folks in the chamber right now, and I hope they recognize that this is how their government is supposed to work,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, the cosponsor of the bill.

Support for the bill — which creates both agency-specific funds and a central fund for large IT upgrade projects — was never in short supply.

The legislation was formed as a compromise bill September 2016, combining elements of Hurd’s Modernizing Outdated and Vulnerable Equipment and Information Technology, or MOVE IT, Act with Rep. Steny Hoyer’s, D-Md., Information Technology Modernization Act in a show of bipartisan support for funding better IT systems for federal agencies.  

That version of the MGT Act passed the House unanimously, but stumbled in the Senate following a Congressional Budget Office score that said it would cost $9 billion to implement.

Hurd and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., reintroduced the bill on April 28 with support from Hoyer and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. The new bill trimmed appropriation costs and eliminated pay-as-you-go costs, earning a more palatable CBO score of $500 million.

The recent cyberattacks of WannaCry ransomware and the 2015 hack of the Office of Personnel Management struck a chord for many on the importance of the bill.  

“Over the past few years, we have all witnessed the havoc that sophisticated cyberattacks can wreak on our nation,” Connolly said. “The MGT Act will authorize an upfront investment to retire vulnerable, large-scale legacy systems affecting multiple agencies. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would provide mechanisms and much-needed funding for agencies to speed-up the process of moving from legacy IT systems to cutting-edge technologies.”

Connelly added that the MGT Act "lays the foundation for the future of IT modernization funding."

Industry stakeholders immediately applauded the House vote and rallied the Senate to pass the bill in earnest.

“The MGT Act is needed to break the cycle that traps the government in funding outdated IT systems that are a risk to our national security instead of investing in the new technologies it needs to ensure cybersecurity,” IT Alliance for the Public Sector Senior Vice President for Public Sector Trey Hodgkins said in a statement.

McAfee Chief Public Policy Officer Tom Gann echoed those sentiments, recalling the impact of the OPM hack, which exposed the personal information of more than 21 million federal employees and family members.

“We have only to remember breaches such as OPM two years ago to realize that federal networks do much more than enable our federal agencies to function; they house extremely sensitive data that can be valuable to all kinds of attackers,” he said in a statement.

“The MGT Act will enable old IT systems to be retired and replaced so that security with intelligent, self-remediating endpoints can get to work protecting our national assets.”

The MGT Act is seen as a critical piece of both Congress’ and the White House’s strategy on IT modernization and cybersecurity. Trump administration officials have cited the bill, alongside recent executive orders, in the White House’s move to strengthen the federal government’s cyber posture.

The bill will now head to the Senate. 

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