For all of the bipartisan goodwill that modernizing the government's information technology has garnered, there's one thing that Gerry Connolly thinks can bring it to a halt: the executive branch.
Speaking at the MeriTalk's Cloud for Next-Gen Government conference on June 7, Rep. Connolly, D-Va., said that despite the legislative momentum behind the Modernizing Government Technology Act and White House support through recent executive orders, the movement to upgrade federal IT could still stall if the Trump administration doesn't start appointing personnel to back it.
"Frankly, there's a big vacuum at the top," he said. "We had hoped that the incoming administration might keep non-political technical people that were providing leadership in IT procurement and management like [former Federal Chief Information Officer] Tony Scott on board. They did not do that, and as a result, there is not really a champion at the top where you can say, 'That's his job or her job.'"
According to the Partnership for Public Service, to date, of the 558 administration positions requiring Senate confirmation, the White House has nominated 80, with only 40 confirmed. MeriTalk founder Steve O'Keeffe noted at the event that only a third of the cabinet-level agencies had a CIO in place.
The Trump administration’s IT modernization efforts have been platooned by a number of executives, including acting Federal CIO Margie Graves, Assistant for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives Reed Cordish and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who heads up the Office of American Innovation.
Connolly noted that while Kushner is tasked with making the government more innovative — including by supporting modernization — his other administration roles may have drawn focus away from the mission.
"In his spare time, when he is not solving Middle East peace, he’s apparently going to be in charge of government reorganization," Connolly said, in a jab at Trump’s endorsement of Kushner as a quasi-diplomat for the administration.
"I don’t think IT procurement and management are at the top of his list. So, we have that vacuum, and that is of concern because we are losing time."
The Virginia congressman said he anticipates the Senate to take up the MGT Act in July, and — should it pass — the bill would build on the progress of Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, to give the government a framework for the government to acquire and manage modern IT.
"The jury’s out on where the Trump administration is going to be in terms of providing vigorous leadership to build on the progress we have made," he said.
The White House has signaled its support for IT modernization almost immediately after assuming office and have tied upgrade efforts to its agency reorganization and cybersecurity executive orders, fiscal 2018 budget and has tasked the OAI office and the new American Technology Council with it.
Connolly acknowledged the commitment shown by the administration, but said that without the personnel to carry it out, the initiatives may go nowhere.
"We welcome any attention coming from this administration about the sort of portfolio of issues we are talking about," he said. "The key is always going to be follow-up. Candidly, executive orders today are a dime a dozen.
"Will there be follow-up? If you don’t have a team in place, I don’t know how you do that."