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6 Tech Takeaways in the New Spending Bill

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House and Senate negotiators Tuesday evening unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund the government and keep the lights on at federal agencies through the end of fiscal 2015.

The massive bill, which is headed for a vote in the House as early as Thursday, is chock-full of provisions related to federal technology.

From the Pentagon’s cloud efforts to a new $35 million cybersecurity center, read some of key tech takeaways of the bill below.

U.S. Digital Service Gets Funding Approved

The spending bill provides $20 million for IT oversight activities at the Office of Management and Budget. That includes fully funding the new federal fix-it squad, the U.S. Digital Service, launched in August.

Headed by former Googler Mikey Dickerson, the office has run in pilot mode over the last few months. When fully operational, the administration envisions a staff size of about 20-25.

Congress’ munificence toward the small IT shop may change Dickerson’s mind about the federal budget process. In September, just a few weeks into the job, Dickerson joked at a federal advisory board that the budget process was the “antithesis of agile” and that it had already “burned” him.

In addition, the bill calls on OMB to identify the 10 “highest-priority” IT investments under development across the government and provide quarterly reports to the congressional oversight committees on those projects.  

Lawmakers “are concerned about the large number of major IT development projects that are overbudget, off-schedule and ultimately fail to function,” according to the bill.

NIST Cyber Funding Mostly Intact

The bill provides the National Institute of Standards and Technology with about $675 million for its “core” scientific and technical core programs. That’s close to the $680 million requested by the agency for fiscal 2015.

Of that, about $15 million is allocated for the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, the special cyber research laboratory NIST launched in 2012 in partnership with the state of Maryland.

Another $16.5 million is slated for the National Strategies for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.

Known as NSTIC, the program is designed to come up with alternatives to the increasingly unreliable password for Internet log-ins. The program has disbursed grants to companies and state governments to launch new online ID tools. Connect.gov, a new online portal to access some government sites using alternative log-ins, is set to launch in the coming weeks.

Another $60.7 million is set aside for NIST’s cyber research and development.

Civilian Cyber Campus Gets the Green Light

The bill clears the way for a new Washington, D.C.-area cybersecurity campus to house federal employees and contractors working on the government’s civilian cybersecurity efforts.

The civilian cyber mission spans agencies, including several components of the Department of Homeland Security -- including the National Protection and Programs Directorate, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and the U.S. Secret Service -- as well as the FBI.

The goal of the governmentwide civilian cyber campus, according to a March 2014 General Services Administration prospectus is to “create a centralized, visible, civilian-led organization that presents a fused cyber capability,” promotes collaboration between agencies and optimizes the use of federal resources.

The bill provides $35 million in construction or acquisition costs for the new campus -- the full amount requested by GSA.

Agencies: Listen to Your CIOs

From the bill: “The head of each executive branch agency funded by this act shall ensure that the chief information officer of the agency has the authority to participate in decisions regarding the budget-planning process related to information technology.”

Federal IT reform legislation adopted by the House and cruising toward passage in the Senate -- as part of an annual Defense Department policy bill -- would give more teeth to that admonition.

Under that legislation, agency CIOs would be granted a “significant role” in programming, budgeting and decision-making related to IT management and would have a say-so in their agency’s annual IT budget requests.

VA-DOD Health Record Funding Comes with Strings Attached

Efforts between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to create an electronic health record system that can seamlessly follow military service members through their transition to VA health care have been marked by stalls, do-overs and elusive progress.

Citing concerns with that lack of progress, the bill requires the DOD and VA secretaries to provide monthly progress updates to the federal chief information officer -- a position currently held by acting CIO Lisa Schlosser -- on modernizing their EHR systems.

The two departments backed away from creating a common EHR system, and instead recommitted in early 2013 to developing two different systems that could “talk” to each other.

VA and DOD funding will continue to come with strings attached until progress is made. The bill requires VA and DOD offices to provide the House and Senate appropriations committees with detailed spending plans and progress reports on building the new systems. Otherwise, funding for the projects is restricted to 25 percent.

DOD is currently combing through bids on a potential $11 billion deal to replace its existing EHR system with commercial software. The department expects to make awards on the Healthcare Management Systems Modernization contract sometime in the third quarter of 2015.

DOD Cloud Computing: Show Us the Money

Congress wants to know how much DOD has saved by using cloud computing.

The spending bill directs DOD’s CIO -- Terry Halvorsen is now the acting CIO -- to deliver a report to Congress by September “on the status of expanding the adoption of cloud computing” within DOD.

Lawmakers want an update on security impacts of transitioning and the total cost savings achieved in fiscal 2014 and 2015 through using cloud.

In a report issued this month, the DOD inspector general said agency leaders stumbled in their efforts to come up with a strong implementation plan for DOD’s cloud migrations. As a result, three agency components procured cloud services that hadn’t been properly vetted, potentially putting sensitive data at risk.

(Image via JohnKwan/Shutterstock.com)

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