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Connolly Worries About Civilian Agencies Under Trump's Plans

House Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.

House Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A lawmaker is concerned President-elect Donald Trump’s tax plan and proposed federal hiring freeze could negatively impact civilian agencies and Virginia industry.

Speaking Wednesday at the Professional Services Council’s Vision 2016 conference, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said Trump’s promised tax plan could cost the federal government “$400 billion to $600 billion a year” in revenue, and coupled with Trump’s promise to increase defense spending, would likely result in lower spending on the civilian side.

“If we continue this downward pressure on the civilian side in order to fund the defense side while lowering federal revenue, I assure you it’s a recipe—maybe short term, we’ll benefit—but in the intermediate-to-long term, we’ll face serious crunches in the ability to do our jobs and grow the country,” Connolly said.

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Connolly added almost 45 percent of the federal contracts awarded in Virginia’s 11th District were civilian. PSC’s federal market forecast, released later in the day Wednesday, predicted such a reversal in spending trends. The forecast called for decreased growth in civilian IT spending over the next five years and increased growth in defense IT spending.

“I worry about our ability to invest, especially on the civilian side of government,” Connolly said.

Connolly was also critical of a proposed federal hiring freeze Trump promised on the campaign trail in October.

Trump said the freeze would be one of his top priorities he would seek to accomplish on his first day in office, and part of his plan to “reduce the federal workforce through attrition.” Exceptions would be made for military, public safety and public health positions.

“Across-the-board anything impresses me as rather mindless and begs questions of making critical, discrete decisions,” Connolly said. “A hiring freeze might make ideological folks happy, but what about the criticality of mission?”

Connolly said some pockets within government demand additional spending. The government can’t recruit talented people to necessary fields if a freeze is in place, Connolly said, using cybersecurity as an example.

The Obama administration requested an additional $5 billion in IT funding in fiscal 2017 for cybersecurity, which includes the hiring of several thousand skilled IT personnel. Trump’s own cybersecurity plan, released in October, would seem to increase government’s emphasis on cyber, and likely the money spent on increasing the federal government’s cybersecurity capabilities. Under a freeze, the government won’t be bringing in skilled personnel.

“A blind, across-the-board freeze is inferentially saying, ‘All missions are the same,’” Connolly said. “They clearly don’t have the same value.”

With Congress back in session, Connolly said he’d continue to push the Senate to pass the Modernizing Government Technology Act during the lame-duck session. Connolly said MGT, which unanimously passed the House in September, would have major ramifications in cybersecurity as well. If passed, it would allow Chief Financial Officers Act agencies to create working IT capital funds to bank modernization savings and create a $3.1 billion modernization fund agencies could borrow against, should appropriators choose to allocate money to it.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for MGT in the House, Connolly wondered aloud whether the Senate would elect to pass it, or punt to Congress once Trump is inaugurated. Connolly argued that it makes sense to act fast, given that the systems government needs to retire most are rife with cybersecurity vulnerabilities, often unencrypted and operationally inefficient.

“I’m hoping the lame-duck Senate will include [MGT] as a house-cleaning item that needs to be passed,” Connolly said. 

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