The two House of Representatives members, who serve as chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Information Technology, respectively, have established themselves as go-to partners in crafting bipartisan IT legislation and they attribute a focus on common goals to their success.
Why did you end up choosing each other as opposite-party partners in legislating?
WILL HURD: So, what’s interesting is we didn’t necessarily choose. We choose to work together the way we do, but it’s almost like fate put us together. We were interested in the topic and have a good personal relationship and I think are both committed to solving the problems.
ROBIN KELLY: We do like a round robin as far as committees and things like that go. It was just my turn in the seniority ranking, and I chose to have this subcommittee. And I was fortunate that Will — however he got that subcommittee — was the one to get the subcommittee, because we do work really well together. And I think we keep our eye on the goal, and we run a very, I would say, bipartisan committee and get a lot of things done.
HURD: Robin, I don’t think I ever told you this. So, I got this [chairmanship] because Jason Chaffetz [former Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair] called me two days after the election and said, “You have a background in cybersecurity. We would like you to run this committee.” I didn’t know what Oversight and Government Reform was. I didn’t have the heart to tell Jason on the phone “no.” When I told my staff this was offered, they were like, “Yeah, the answer’s actually ‘yes.’ ” So, I’m glad I didn’t tell him “no” on that first phone call.
Speaking on the subject matter that your committee addresses, you have had success in IT-focused legislation and work. Why do you think that topic area is fruitful as a bipartisan initiative?
KELLY: Well, I think that everyone realizes that we need to have modernized technology. We need to be up to date. I think everyone realized that it is expensive, but we have to work out something. And, actually, we seem to have a certain amount of members that have a background in IT, that people have a particular interest also in seeing that we’re successful.
HURD: It helps when there’s nobody advocating for inefficient systems. Nobody is saying that we should go back to COBOL [programming language]. There’s no argument on the opposite side, and I think the issue that really focused a lot of attention on this topic, whether it’s broader cybersecurity or modernization of digital infrastructure, was the Office of Personnel Management hack. So many people were touched by it, and so many people realized how this could have been prevented.Like Robin said, I have become shocked at the number of people that do have some experience and exposure — or have some kind of background — that touches the broad issue of information technology, and it’s on both sides of the aisle. So, I think all that combined allows this to be an issue that we can all work together on.
And, also, I think because Robin and I do set the tone, and we do talk about little things. Like, before we got here, you would never share details about the upcoming hearing until a few days in advance. I think that’s ridiculous. So, we talk about what kind of hearings we want and who are the kinds of people that we ultimately want to testify. I think that creates an environment where we lead by example, and I think that rubs off.
KELLY: I think our staffs have worked well together, which helps a lot, too.
HURD: For sure.
What do you count as your biggest success in what you’ve been working on together?
HURD: I think the fact that we’re known as being able to work together; that’s a major accomplishment in such a partisan environment. But I would think that the MGT [Modernizing Government Technology] Act is something that’s going to have dividends for years to come. And, while I think procurement is not sexy, it’s going to change the way the federal government operates.
I would also say, Robin, that I’d add the continued FITARA [Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act] score card. You have seen behavior change within the federal government. And one little example: We started looking at whether the CIO of the agency reports directly to the agency head or the deputy agency head. I think when we started this out, the number was incredibly low, under five, and now I believe there’s only two [who don’t], with one of those two looking like it’s going to change.
KELLY: Really, I think when you think about that Oversight and Government Reform in looking at the effectiveness and efficiency of agencies, that is exactly what we did in that space. I agree, I think the MGT Act is major. But, also, I know we haven’t gotten there all the way yet, but even the idea of — what do you call it when we’re training people to become IT folks?
HURD: The cyber reserves?
KELLY: Yeah. We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think that’s a great vision that I share with you.
What have you found are the biggest challenges in trying to put forward legislation that is bipartisan to begin with?
KELLY: For me, I think the biggest challenge is resources and finances. Maybe you hear it more than me, Will, but I don’t really hear that people don’t want to do it or they don’t think this legislation is necessary. But, rather, it’s just how to pay for it.
HURD: Agreed 100 percent. Some of the frustration that I have is, it’s not necessarily working in a bipartisan way to get legislation done, it is dealing with the bureaucracy and somewhat the inertia within the agencies on implementing some of these issues. So, that’s one of the biggest frustrations.
And I think on the resource issue that Robin’s talking about, it is hard, and that’s why MGT was so important. Because if you create that culture of modernization and allow the agencies to spend their money, plan a little bit further, and have access to resources beyond just one year, I think that’s the gift that keeps on giving.
You said earlier that you started working together because fate placed you both as leadership on the subcommittee. Do you have any advice for your colleagues on finding that bipartisan partner that may not be a subcommittee head?
KELLY: You know, the funny thing is I kind of lucked out because I’m also on the Foreign Affairs [Committee], and I have two really good role models with Chairman [Ed] Royce and ranking member [Eliot] Engle. That’s a very bipartisan committee. And actually, there might be people that I don’t vote with or like most of the time or whatever, but we’re not fighting like I think people think we are. I think that there still is an overall respect that congresspeople have for each other.
HURD: And my advice is really simple: Talk and listen. It’s not hard, and everybody has unique backgrounds and experiences and are trying to accomplish things. So, when you talk through and understand what that is, you can find overlap very, very easily. But it requires just having simple conversations.
Are there any lessons that you’ve learned in doing bipartisan IT legislation that you think can be expanded to other topics?
KELLY: I still think it goes back to, like Will said, that because of how we act, we set the culture. Our staffs respect each other. In committee, members are respectful and that kind of thing. So, I think we set the standard, and that’s what I would tell people. It’s how you act also as chair and ranking member.
As far as things that we can do to work together, I think there are plenty of things, no matter what district you represent. My district’s urban, suburban and rural, and I think that people want a roof over their head. They want good schools for their kids. They want a job. Just things like that, and I think that we can work together with that.
HURD: Understand that we’ve all made a decision to come up to Washington, D.C., and so understanding the reasons for that and what you want to achieve is just helpful in figuring out what areas you can work together on. One of our soon-to-be biggest accomplishments, the cyber reserves, got started because Robin suggested that we do a field hearing in Chicago because there were some great companies doing good work there. And one of the panelists talked about something similar to what, ultimately, we’re working on when it comes to the cyber reserves. That’s just one example of how, when you listen, you can find synergies and do some really good things.
Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.