New Bipartisan Bill Would Codify GSA’s Centers of Excellence Program

Patrick Semansky/AP

The “light touch” legislation was introduced by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

The Center of Excellence program—housed within the Technology Transformation Service in the General Services Administration—would be codified in law under new legislation introduced Thursday by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

The Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act is a “light touch codification of the CoE program,” according to Khanna and Meadows.

“This bill and these centers will to continue to save money for the American taxpayer and bring state of the art technology to our federal government,” Khanna said. “In such partisan times, this effort is a good reminder that there are many issues that we can still come together on for the betterment of our nation.”

The centers were established in 2017 as a support system for agencies looking to improve across five critical areas: commercial cloud, contact centers, customer experience, data analytics and infrastructure optimization. Agencies joining the program received specialized assistance contracting with vendors to assess their current programs during the first phase, and contracting support and in-house consulting with GSA experts during a second implementation phase.

The centers began their work with a partnership with the Agriculture Department, later adding Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Personnel Management as customers. As the program has evolved, GSA has added new focus areas, including an artificial intelligence center that is currently working with the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC.

“By bringing the best of private sector innovation to the federal government’s IT systems, these Centers of Excellence will allow agencies to better communicate with the Americans they serve, all while saving the taxpayer tens of millions by making agencies more efficient,” Meadows said in a statement. “IT modernization is increasingly important for innovations both within and outside government, and I want to thank Rep. Khanna of California for his bipartisan work on this critical initiative. I’m glad to join him.”

Per the legislation, the Centers of Excellence would have five responsibilities:

  • Modernize IT and how a customer interacts with an executive agency.
  • Improve cooperation between commercial and executive agency IT sectors.
  • Assist an executive agency with planning and adoption of tools within the five original centers’ areas of focus.
  • Share best practices and expertise with executive agencies.
  • Other responsibilities as identified by the director of TTS.

The bill does not include any additional funding or prescribe new areas of focus for the program. While the Centers of Excellence is a relatively small program among many within GSA and the government at large, staff for Khanna told Nextgov the congressman believes it is important to highlight areas of bipartisan agreement.

"While Rep. Khanna disagrees with many of this president's policies, he's been impressed with the work of Chris Liddell and Matt Lira in the White House Office of American Innovation,” Khanna’s Deputy Chief of Staff Heather Purcell told Nextgov. “Modernizing our government is not a partisan issue and he's enjoyed working with them on bringing technology from Silicon Valley to the federal government. By codifying this program into federal statute in a bipartisan way, we will ensure its survival beyond this administration."

As of Thursday, there was no companion bill in the Senate, though Purcell was confident one will emerge.

“There are many senators who are passionate about saving the taxpayer money and modernizing our government that we've worked with in the past," she said.