IT Modernization Gets Nod, But No Money, In House Funding Bills

Artem Samokhvalov/

Funding for a major tech upgrades push will have to wait on Senate action on a modernization bill.

Government funding bills that are heading to the House floor this week don’t include money for a House-passed bill to upgrade government technology systems but “recognizes the importance” of those legislative efforts.

It would be unusual for a House appropriations bill to include funding for a project that has not yet won approval from both legislative chambers. Yet, the specific language could leave modernization advocates concerned about Congress’ commitment to the House-passed and White House-backed Modernizing Government Technology Act, which would provide up to $500 million for tech modernization over two years.

“I think it is fair to say this is not helpful to the administration’s position,” said Rich Beutel, a former senior adviser to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.

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“It suggests that [Congress] still needs some persuading before they will appropriate the [information technology modernization fund] money,” said Beutel, who is now principal of Cyrus Analytics.

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriation bill, which passed the House Appropriations Committee on a nearly party line vote, noted “the importance of recent legislative efforts to modernize the way the federal government uses technology” and “proposed solutions for replacing outdated and vulnerable legacy IT systems across the government.”

That’s “pretty noncommittal language,” Beutel said.

A staffer for bill sponsor Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, stressed the importance of the Modernizing Government Technology Act passing both chambers so funding can be appropriated to vital modernization projects in future years.

A Senate version of the bill has yet to receive a hearing. Similar legislation passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.

The bill has two main components. First, it would create a central modernization fund that agencies could borrow from to modernize their most outdated, inefficient or vulnerable technology systems. That fund would let the government spend up to $250 million per year for two years, and an independent board would manage the borrowing.

Second, it would allow government agencies to create working IT capital funds where they could stash money they save from one set of system upgrades, such as moving computer systems to the cloud, and invest that money in other projects based on efficiency, security and other priorities.

Other portions of the House appropriations package would boost different technology priorities. A Homeland Security bill, notably, boosts cybersecurity funding within the Homeland Security Department’s cyber operations division by about $33 million above its 2017 fiscal year level to about $702 million.