10 Tech Takeaways in $1 Trillion Funding Bill

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There are 423 references to “cyber” in the 2,000 page bill.

Congress today easily approved a massive bill funding agencies and government operations for fiscal 2016. The omnibus legislation follows a series of short-term spending bills and ushers in a number of new reporting requirements, agency mandates and new dollars for federal IT programs.

Cyber Bonanza

There are 423 references to “cyber” in the 2,000 page bill. That’s largely because, subsumed in the annual funding measure is the 2015 Cybersecurity Act, a modified version of long-awaited cybersecurity information sharing legislation. The cyber provisions make it easier for companies to share cyberthreat information with the government and sets up the Department of Homeland Security as the main portal through which the tips will be processed. Read the full breakdown of the info-sharing bill by Nextgov’s Aliya Sternstein.

In addition to information sharing, the bill adds teeth to recent steps the Obama administration has taken to shore up the federal government’s cybersecurity posture. The bill requires agencies to identify unclassified computer systems “that may provide an adversary with the ability to derive information that would otherwise be considered classified” and also requires DHS and the Office of Management and Budget to develop and implement an intrusion assessment plan to "proactively detect, identify and remove intruders in agency information systems on a routine basis.”

As part of a long-term cybersecurity strategy initiated in the wake of the massive Office of Personnel Management hack, U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott directed agencies to identify high-value agency assets that could be targeted by hackers and announced the government will put together new guidelines for recovering from cyberattacks. It’s unclear if the congressional mandates will come with new funding to support the administration’s cyber shape-up plan.

Counting the Cyber Workforce

Also thrown into the cyber portion of the bill is the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act, originally introduced in August by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The bill requires agencies to use a cyber-jobs framework developed by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education to better quantify the federal government’s information security workforce and to report annually on “critical” shortages of cyber talent.

The administration, citing a “major” cyber talent shortage, is already holding agencies to a Dec. 31 deadline to report cyber workforce gaps.

Smartphone Security

Lawmakers are also concerned about mobile device security. The bill directs DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to undertake a study on “threats relating to the security of the mobile devices of the federal government” and submit the findings to Congress in an unclassified report. The study should assess the threat to the security of federal networks and information systems stemming from mobile devices, according to the legislative language and also assess whether DHS has the necessary authorities to address mobile device security throughout the federal government.

IRS Cyber and IT Upgrades

Lawmakers proposed a $290 million increase for the Internal Revenue Service -- total budget: $11.2 billion -- specifically to upgrade customer service, cut back on fraud and identity theft, and improve cybersecurity. Earlier this year, IRS officials announced fraudsters had exploited the agency’s online “Get Transcript” feature to file fraudulent tax returns to the tune of $39 million.

IRS is also required to submit quarterly reports to Congress detailing the cost and schedule performance for some of the agency’s major IT modernization projects. That includes the the Customer Account Data Engine, known as CADE 2, which aims to update the way the agency processes tax returns and systems. A watchdog report earlier this year pointed to inadequate reporting to Congress about the performance of major IT projects.

VA EHR Upgrade Funding Comes with Strings Attached

Funding for VA’s VistA Evolution program, an effort to upgrade the agency’s in-house electronic health record system, is limited to 25 percent until the VA secretary reports to Congress the status of the agency’s plan, any changes made to its scope or functionality and the actual program costs so far incurred. In addition, lawmakers want VA to provide a definition it’s using to describe interoperability with DOD systems.

Last month, Pentagon officials said they were ready to certify they met congressionally mandated interoperability requirements, although an October report from the Government Accountability Office said a fully interoperable system is still “years away.”

Yes to NOAA Using Commercial Satellites

​The spending bill includes $3 million for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commercial satellite data pilot program. The funding will aid NOAA, pushed by Congress over the past year to consider commercial satellite weather forecasting options, in building a pilot effort stemming from its developing Commercial Space Policy.

Funding Bump for U.S. Digital Service

The measure includes $30 million for OMB's Information Technology Oversight Fund, which provides funding for the White House’s U.S. Digital Service team. That’s less than the Obama administration wanted -- $35.4 million -- but $10 million above currently levels. The oversight fund also supports other governmentwide IT initiatives.

The administration had also proposed spending $105 million to form digital service teams at the 24 largest federal agencies. It’s unclear if those teams are funded in the omnibus. Earlier this year, individual appropriations bill had nixed funding for some agency teams.

Extra ID Protection for Hacked Feds

The final bill also included a measure expanding identity theft protections to victims of the OPM hack. Currently, the agency is providing a year of credit monitoring to 4.2 million current and former federal employees whose Social Security numbers were compromised in the first of the two related data breaches the agency announced last summer. Additionally, 21.5 million individuals whose background investigation files were stolen by hackers are receiving three years of coverage. The spending bill approved by lawmakers expands protections for both groups to 10 years.

Intel Assessment of the OPM Hack

Also included in the omnibus? The annual Intelligence Authorization Act, laying out high-level priorities for the U.S. intelligence community. This year, lawmakers want Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to compile an unclassified report on how the OPM hack affected intelligence operations. Specifically, Congress wants to know if overseas operations have been disrupted or suspended because of the hack.

OPM Gets $21 Million for Cyber Upgrades

Overall, the funding bill includes $272 million in funding for OPM -- the amount requested by the agency -- and $32 million more than this year. Of that, $21 million is slated for IT security improvements at the agency. Congress directed OPM to work with OMB and the White House’s digital fix-it team, the U.S. Digital Service, to strengthen its defenses. Over the summer, lawmakers rejected an extra $15 million in emergency cybersecurity funding for OPM to make security upgrades quicker.

Frank Konkel contributed to this report. 

(Image via /Shutterstock.com)

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