Remote Work and Hack Mitigation Show Need for IT Modernization Funding, Lawmaker Says

Rep. Ro Khanna

Rep. Ro Khanna House Television via AP

Rep. Ro Khanna detailed efforts to ensure agencies have resources for legally mandated updates.

Remote work remains a reality for many government employees as the pandemic persists, steadily underscoring the urgency of agencies’ needs for reliable, up-to-date digital technologies, according to Rep. Ro Khanna. 

“Federal [information technology] modernization is now more important than ever,” the California Democrat told Nextgov via email Monday. 

Khanna represents Silicon Valley and has pushed for government-centered, tech-driven improvements during his Congressional tenure. He shared a brief glimpse into the ongoing implementation of one piece of previously passed, agency IT-enhancing legislation—and a look into some relevant priorities on his agenda this year. 

“Digital signatures, electronic forms, and modernized websites are a crucial part” of the upgraded services and options necessary to meet many government entities’ modern needs, Khanna noted. As a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee, he said he intends to work with other policymakers “to ensure we are properly funding our agencies to fully digitize.” 

Moves to promote more digital improvements within agencies would come as the Congressman is also working to help carry out the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, which he introduced with a number of cosponsors in 2018. Passed at the end of that year, the law ultimately aims to boost the user-friendliness of .gov websites and help guarantee a more seamless and secure delivery of digital public services. 

Khanna said officials are still waiting on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget regarding fully implementing the law. He and other colleagues are also working with appropriators to ensure agencies have funding necessary to make the transformations proposed by the law. “Some funds have already been appropriated, and we are working to ensure agencies are well-funded to comply with this law,” Khanna noted. 

The lawmaker added that, during the Trump administration, his team had “a good level of involvement” with the White House Office of American Innovation in support of the bill’s requirements, calling it “a rare example of bipartisanship over the last four years.” 

“We know that the new administration is also committed strongly to federal IT modernization and look forward with the new folks to implement what we passed and work with them on new legislation,” he said. 

And the ongoing, massive breach to federal information systems is also among the issues facing agencies that Khanna is working to confront. He confirmed he’s planning to speak with the CEO of SolarWinds, who recently testified in a joint hearing involving the Oversight Committee. The network management firm’s software was compromised to install malicious code as part of updates across many systems, including those of multiple federal entities.

“We are still learning the extent of the damage and breach, but from everything we’ve seen, it’s extensive, and it’s concerning,” Khanna said. “We must fully investigate what happened, and fully equip our agencies with the necessary funding and technical know-how to repair the damage and beef up our cybersecurity to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.”