House Passes Modernizing Government Technology Act

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The federal government’s woefully old IT systems are apparently something both political parties believe require fixing.

One week after Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, introduced new IT legislation to the House of Representatives, designed to thrust government into 21st-century technologies, the Modernizing Government Technology Act passed on a voice vote. 

“Many parts of the federal government’s IT infrastructure are stuck in the Stone Age,” said Hurd, who chairs the House IT Subcommittee and is known as one of Congress’ most tech-savvy members. “The MGT Act will save taxpayer dollars, increase government accountability, and help government be more efficient in serving the American people.”

The MGT Act is essentially a combination of two prior pieces of legislation, taking portions of its language from the MOVE IT Act Hurd introduced earlier this summer and the White House-backed IT Modernization Fund introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in the spring. 

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The bill calls for the creation of working IT capital funds in CFO Act agencies, allowing agencies to bank savings from modernization efforts afoot. As a whole, government spends approximately 80 percent of its $90 billion IT budget on legacy systems. Agencies that are able to show savings from modernization efforts would be rewarded under this bill, allowing them to use savings to fund other modernization efforts, such as moving to the cloud. 

The bill also would create a federal-wide modernization fund that agencies—led by chief information officers—could build business cases for to seek out money for modernization efforts. In this way, the MGT Act incorporates the main thrust of Hoyer’s ITMF legislation, though it differs in that no upfront money will fill the pot of money. Were it to pass, appropriators would have that discretion. 

The federal government’s woefully old IT systems are apparently something both political parties believe require fixing. The bipartisan effort was on display Thursday, with MGT Act co-sponsor Gerry Connolly, D-Va., praising Hurd and others for grasping the importance of modernizing federal IT systems. 

“Sometimes deservedly, Congress gets dinged on for not being able to get anything done, but the fact of the matter is below the surface things can and do get done with leadership and collaboration and partnership,” Connolly said on the House floor Thursday.

Hurd invoked the Office of Personnel Management hack that exposed millions of security clearance holders’ personal information in 2015 as the impetus for the bill, though Congress has documented numerous other egregious examples of outdated technology at work in government. Some large systems predate the 1970s.

“We got too many old things on our network,” Hurd said Thursday. “A reliance on legacy IT can result in security vulnerabilities, where old software or operating systems are no longer supported by vendors and aging IT infrastructure becomes difficult and expensive to secure.” 

There has been less action in the Senate, which hasn’t seen the needle move since July since the previous MOVE IT Act was introduced.