The Modernizing Government Technology Act, signed into law in December 2017, asked for $250 million to populate a fund addressing agencies’ needs to update legacy IT systems. Under the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill released March 21, 2018, however, that Technology Modernization Fund would receive only $100 million for its first six months.
Revolving capital for replacing aging technology have been subject to reductions since the concept was proposed in President Barack Obama’s FY17 budget. That fund originally included $3.1 billion for federal IT modernization. But that number resulted in a Congressional Budget Office score too high for many deficit hawks to stomach, and the number was reduced in the final MGT Act.
And though the bill’s author in the House, Will Hurd, R-Texas, has said that the TMF is not the be-all-end-all of MGT, the significantly reduced total in the 2018 appropriations isn’t good news for agencies and programs that have incorporated that funding into their IT plans.
Leadership for the Centers of Excellence, a White House-sponsored initiative to kickstart agency innovation in cloud, data and customer service, has said that TFM funding is an important goal for their program. And the Department of Agriculture, the lighthouse agency for the Centers of Excellence, has already developed funding proposals to submit to the TMF evaluation board.
Under the bill, an additional $19 million would be appropriated to the Office of Management and Budget “for the furtherance of integrated, efficient, secure and effective uses of information technology” and which may be transferred to other agencies to accomplish those goals.
The appropriations still provide funds for IT investments within individual agencies, and promote the authority of agency chief information officers in signing off on major IT investments by prohibiting use of large chunks of those funds without the approval of a CIO or agency secretary.
CIO oversight of agency IT spending is a major component of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, which grades agency IT improvement in biannual scorecards to Congress.
The bill also appropriates $782 million for the development of the electronic health records system at Veterans Affairs, an initiative that seeks to align the VA system with the new Department of Defense electronic record system that is expected to be fully deployed in 2022.
An additional $1 million would be appropriated “for the purchase and implementation of telehealth services, including pilots and demonstrations on the use of electronic health records to coordinate rural veterans care between rural providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health record system.”
Everything IT related in the appropriations isn’t about approving the transfer of funds, however; one omnibus add-on is about approving the transfer of data. Titled the “Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act,” this legislation requires that communications providers holding data about U.S. persons in locations outside the U.S. provide that data when under a court order.
An option to quash the court order is available if the person being investigated is determined not to be a U.S. person or if providing that data would go against the laws of the foreign government where the data resides. The law also provides for the legal transfer of data from U.S.-located communications services to foreign governments for legal purposes, so long as those governments meet certain human rights and cybersecurity standards.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.