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New CBO score gives IT modernization bill a $500M price tag

Proponents of the Modernizing Government Technology Act have been saying for weeks that they had ironed out wrinkles that earned the bill a $9 billion score from the Congressional Budget Office in 2016.

The CBO proved them right on May 15, giving the reintroduced bill a $500 million cost projection from 2017 to 2022.

After passing the House in September, the information technology bill received a $9 billion cost score from CBO on Dec. 1, hampering its chances of being passed in the Senate before the new year.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, reintroduced the measure on April 28 with pledges to not only address the previous CBO score, but also retain the measure's signature elements, individual agency IT funds and a central revolving fund for larger upgrade projects.

The new score centers on the bill’s proposal of two appropriations of $250 million in 2018 and 2019 to help stand up legislation implementation, as opposed to the $3 billion proposed in the 2016 version, which originated from President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget request.

Unlike the previous CBO score, the new assessment recognizes that the 2017 version does not increase direct spending measures.

The 2016 report noted that the appropriations in the central fund could be the sourced from unspent monies appropriated for other purposes that could be transferred toward updating IT systems.

"Amounts transferred would remain available for obligation for three years after the transfer; CBO expects agencies would transfer to this new fund appropriated amounts that would otherwise lapse," the 2016 report said.

"Extending the period of availability for funds that are already appropriated would be a reappropriation and considered to be direct spending. Because agencies would probably want to keep some of those balances for unexpected expenses, CBO estimates that half of that amount would be transferred and used by federal agencies for IT investments over the next two years, increasing direct spending by $3 billion over the next three years."

The 2016 CBO score also accounted for $3 billion in pay-as-you-go expenses that were factored into the $9-billion price tag. The 2017 score removes those charges.

Hurd said at a May 2 event that his new version of the bill had addressed the cost issues outlined in the 2016 CBO score.

Acting Federal Chief Information Officer Margie Graves said on May 10 that the new bill outlines how the revolving fund would be appropriated by agencies who paid back monies that were taken out, and could show a better return on investment.

"I think we’ve answered most of the questions, particularly the issues associated with the CBO score that we got the last time and understanding that the fund is going to work in a way that is going to allow an ROI and a repayment of the fund that doesn’t necessarily tie back to a CBO score."

The bill is scheduled to be discussed on the House floor on May 17.

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