Congress Takes Up FITARA, Outages and Has a Lot of Equifax Questions

Gil C/

Then there are the matters of White House staff using private email and how Russians used Facebook and Twitter during elections.

Agencies that have so far avoided making plans to optimize their data centers might not be able to wait out the expiring mandate.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and co-sponsors Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced the FITARA Enhancement Act this week. The bill aims to extend the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative—scheduled to expire in 2018—to 2020, and gets rid of sunsets on other parts of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Those include PortfolioStat reviews of agencies’ full slate of tech projects with the Office of Management and Budget, and a requirement to place spending data on the IT Dashboard.

The House version, introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July. The Congressional Budget Office determined the House version would produce “no significant additional cost or savings” by extending the provisions.

What’s the Deal with Outages?

A group of Democratic senators wants answers from the Health and Human Services Department Office of Inspector General about planned outages of during the enrollment period. Closing the site for a half day every Sunday, they say, effectively shortens the time Americans have to sign up for health care.

“There is no satisfactory explanation given for why these shutdowns are necessary, and they appear to be part of the pattern by the Trump Administration to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a letter to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson.

They sent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma a similar letter, and asked about staffing for the marketplace call centers and if the open enrollment period could be extended to Jan. 31, 2018.

That Equifax Hot Seat Keeps Gettin’ Hotter

Congress will dive back into the massive data breach at the Equifax credit rating firm next week. First, Equifax CEO Richard Smith will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday. Then Smith will testify before the Senate Banking Committee Wednesday morning and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its own Equifax hearing that afternoon. Smith will be back before the House Financial Services Committee Thursday. House Oversight Democrats are also pressing Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to hold an Equifax hearing.

You’ve Got Deja Vu

Meanwhile, Democrats are making hay out of reports that presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and other Trump administration officials used private email accounts to conduct government business. House Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., announced that he’s launching an investigation into the practice Monday. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote to White House Counsel Don McGahn Thursday asking him to force White House staff to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

Drip Drip Drip-ski

Senate Intelligence leaders plan to hold a press conference to update the public on their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The House Intelligence Committee plans to hold an open hearing sometime in October with tech company leaders focused on how the Russian meddling campaign manipulated social media, leaders said this week. The Senate committee is reportedly planning a November hearing.

After a closed meeting with Twitter officials this week, House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the company’s leaders must launch a “far more robust investigation into how Russian actors used their platform” to affect the election.

No Neutrality on Net Neutrality

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to urge senators to vote against reconfirming Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on grounds that he would dismantle net neutrality regulations.

“Since taking over the FCC leadership in January, Chairman Pai has wasted no time in moving the agency away from its key mission: promote the use and deployment of communications in the public interest,” Cantwell said. Pai has repeatedly announced his intention to remove regulations that many say privilege large service providers.

Cantwell, who has been an outspoken supporter of net neutrality, said Wednesday that doing away with the regulations would stifle technological innovation and negatively impact people’s lives in unforeseeable ways. “We cannot afford to ruin the internet economy by doing this,” she said.

The Senate on Thursday voted 55-41 to end the debate on his renomination with a final vote expected Monday.

Small Business Cyber Bill Finds its Feet

The Main Street Cybersecurity Act, which boosts federal aid to help small businesses improve their cyber protections, passed the Senate Thursday. A House counterpart has yet to reach that chamber’s floor.

Ready, Set, Startup

The Startup Act, introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., aims to make it easier to create new businesses. The wide-ranging bill includes provisions that would create new limited visa classes for entrepreneurs and immigrants with advanced STEM degrees obtained in the U.S.; it would also require agencies to make sure their policies aren’t disincentivizing the formation of new businesses.

Dems’s Better Deal Includes Broadband

Democrats unveiled their “Better Deal” package Thursday, which includes $40 billion in funding to build broadband infrastructure across the country, as well as to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges and other critical safety infrastructure. They hope to bring the 34 million Americans without access to broadband into the online economy.

“People in small towns have to know we’ve got their back, that they are not being left behind on technology,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said at the press conference.

Other Hearings to Watch

Tuesday’s busy: A House Judiciary subcommittee dives into online sex trafficking and the law that prevents websites from being held liable for user-generated content. House Oversight’s IT subcommittee will discuss internet of things cybersecurity with experts including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director of Cybersecurity Policy Matthew Eggers. House Homeland will review the Homeland Security Department’s cyber mission with various officials.

On Wednesday, IRS’ IT modernization efforts take center stage in front of a House Ways and Means panel. The Senate Commerce Committee will also mark up self-driving car legislation.

Joseph Marks, Heather Kuldell, Mohana Ravindranath and Jack Corrigan contributed to this report.