The Modernizing Government Technology Act became law on Tuesday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Trump.
“It took longer than I expected, to be honest, but a lot of folks were involved and I think it’s going to be enduring for a long time,” said MGT’s original author, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, in an interview with Federal Times.
MGT was first introduced in the last Congress in September 2016 and failed to pass the Senate due to a $9 billion Congressional Budget Office score. The bill was then retooled and introduced in April 2017 alongside a Senate version authored by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Tom Udall, D-N.M. The bill then became a last minute amendment to the NDAA.
“Today, the president signed into law landmark legislation to reduce wasteful government IT spending and strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity,” said Moran. “I applaud the administration and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their tireless work to get this legislation signed into law and to bring our inefficient, outdated federal IT system into the 21st century. The improved efficiencies from the MGT Act will empower agencies to modernize their legacy IT systems, better protect our data from cyberattacks and ultimately save billions in taxpayer dollars by reducing long-term spending.”
“The Modernizing Government Technology Act is an important step in the journey to a next-gen federal government. The MGT gives agencies more resources to modernize, helping to enable moving to the cloud, implementing shared services, and improving their cyber defenses,” said CSRA CEO Larry Prior.
The bill has two major components: a working capital fund in each agency that enables agencies to save IT funding for up to three years for modernization efforts, and a $250 million revolving capital fund that agencies can borrow from to support specific modernization projects.
Though $227 million in appropriations for MGT’s revolving capital fund were included in the president’s 2018 budget request, those funds were not included in the original House appropriations bill. A representative from Hurd’s office confirmed that there are voices calling for the MGT funding to be included in the new appropriations bill.
According to Hurd, if Congress passes a continuing resolution for the budget with an omnibus spending bill attached, the MGT appropriations could get passed for 2018, depending on what is included in each part.
“The meat of this bill is the working capital fund, it’s not the modernization fund. Now, where can agencies find the capital to put into that working capital fund? Transition to the cloud. The agencies that have already transitioned to the cloud have saved billions of dollars. That is the quickest and the easiest way in order to realize and put that savings into the working capital fund. That is literally step one,” said Hurd, adding that step two is to look to reduce the number of software licenses at each agency.
According to Hurd, each working capital fund will serve as an experiment in how best to fund modernization projects.
“The value of these working capital funds is that they should be 24 different experiments on how to leverage modernization in an agency,” said Hurd. “And I think some best practices should be used so that other people see it. But, yes, [the Government Accountability Office] will be including and articulating how the various agencies could be implementing this.”
Though Hurd said that most agency chief information officers already know what they need for a working capital fund, it’s going to require the agency chief financial officers to get on board and understand what MGT provides.
The introduction of a working capital fund will also be incorporated into the next iteration of the bi-annual Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard, which Hurd characterized as evolving into a digital hygiene scorecard.
According to Hurd, the goal is to keep the scorecard from getting stale by rotating in new measurements as the old ones are fulfilled.
If MGT is successful in getting agencies to create a culture of modernization, Hurd said that it could also enable faster acquisitions of critical technologies down the road, such as quantum computing.
“The reason everyone should be scared is quantum computing is going to upend encryption as we know it. That’s why the Russians are sucking in as much cypher text as they can, because at some point in time they know they’re going to be able to break it,” said Hurd, adding that there should be a Quantum 2000 (Q2K) movement just like the Year 2000 (Y2K) movement prepared the U.S. for a new millennium.
“If we get to a place where we can introduce the latest and greatest tools and techniques into the government, then we can be prepared for any future threats like quantum, and opportunities,” said Hurd.
Through nearly all of its iterations, MGT received bipartisan support, which Hurd said provides lessons learned on how to write and pass bipartisan legislation.
“Have a partner in crime, and my partner in crime is Robin Kelly. And these are things that we talk about in advance, we know what each other’s personal interests are, and there’s no reason that we should be having any arguments on this stuff,” said Hurd. “I think the successes we’ve had in this realm is an example and a model for other types of legislation. That helps in the Senate. You can’t do anything with just Republican votes in the Senate – well, you can do one thing a year with just Republican votes in the Senate – and so when you make sure you have the right Democratic partner it helps with the Senate strategy.”
Trump did not mention MGT in his NDAA signing speech, though his budget and offices within the White House have offered support for the bill in the past.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.