IT modernization bill a keystone for several federal efforts

There's little debate whether the Modernizing Government Technology Act will have a net positive impact on federal agency IT woes.

The question is will it be the defining stroke that helps solve them.

The bill — which passed the House on May 17 by a voice vote — has become one of the crown jewels in the ongoing campaign to update the federal government's dated and lagging information technology system, but also a corollary affirmation of the movement toward shared services in the public sector.

Shared services is a movement that Dave Mader, the former Office of Management and Budget Controller, help codify by standing up the Unified Shared Services Management office within the General Services Administration in 2015.

With the White House’s recent cybersecurity and agency reorganization executive orders focusing heavily on shared services as an efficiency device, the MGT Act will likely capitalize on the movement toward it.

"One of the challenges had with legacy systems is not only the high cost of operating and maintenance, but also the cyber threat," Mader said during an interview with Federal Times. "This bill is a great enabler and compliment to the two executive orders — the one on the reorg and the other last week on cybersecurity.

"And certainly it reflects the emphasis on shared services and basically then would allow USSM to sort of cue up their priorities for consideration at the [Information Technology Modernization] board level."

The bill, which had broad bipartisan support in the House, is the latest in several legislative and executive moves to streamline how the federal government updates its IT, spanning from the passage of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act to the stand-up of USSM.

Alone, those proposals have edged the government both towards better buying and more accountability, but haven’t decisively put it on the path to better IT.

Mader, now the chief strategy officer for Deloitte's civilian sector, said that the sum of them together could help construct a framework to help solve the problem of what to do with the aging and expensive legacy systems.

"I think it’s important to look at the executive orders, look at FITARA, look at MGT Act, look at shared services together because they really are supportive of one another," he said.

But like any initiative in Washington, it will all come down to funding. The MGT Act calls for $500 million in appropriations over two years to stand up a central revolving fund that agencies will pay into for larger projects, and budget negotiations are projected to be contentious.

"We need to find the money in fiscal 2018, the $250 million to deposit into that central working capital fund," Mader said, should the bill pass the Senate.

"So we’ve got to work through the appropriation process over the course of the summer and the fall, but it does give the departments the opportunity now to set up their own working capital funds."

So while agencies can start saving up to fund IT modernization from their own budgets now, the MGT Act’s ultimate success — and possibly IT modernization on the whole — will await Congress’ purse strings.

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