Congress Passes FITARA 2, Hits Brakes on DHS Nominee

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Lawmakers also want to keep a close eye on the multibillion-dollar health records contract Veterans Affairs Department is working on.

Congress sent agencies with lagging or nonexistent plans to close data centers a clear message: get on with it.

The FITARA Enhancement Act passed the Senate Wednesday and next heads to the president’s desk. The bill requires agencies to continue reporting data center inventory, PortfolioStat reviews and sharing data to the IT Dashboard.

“This is an important step towards realizing FITARA’s full potential and sends a clear signal to federal agencies that they cannot run out the clock on data center consolidation. Congress is willing to be a partner in meeting these goals but we will also continue to hold agencies accountable,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told Nextgov.

Hasta La VistA

Lawmakers from the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee want to keep tabs on the department’s plan to retire VistA, its electronic health records system, and switch to the one the Defense Department is adopting. The recently introduced Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act would direct the VA to provide updates on the multibillion contract with planning and implementation documents, and notifications of significant cost increases, scheduling delays, data loss or privacy breaches.

Another Election Security Bill

Voting machines would be required to have a paper trail under an election security bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

The bill also provides competitive grant money for states to update their voting machines, requires an audit if a candidate wins with less than 59 percent of the vote and puts the power of law behind a Homeland Security Department effort to provide security clearances to top state election officials.

Senate Homeland Aims for Monday Vote on DHS Secretary Nominee

A Senate committee delayed a vote Thursday to send Homeland Security Secretary nominee Kirstjen Nielsen to the floor for a vote.

The delay was caused by an inordinately large number of post-hearing questions senators had for Nielsen after her Wednesday confirmation appearance, Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said.  

Nielsen received 197 questions following the hearing compared with 42 for Obama’s final Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the chairman said. Johnson hopes to forward Nielsen’s nomination Monday, he said.

Democrats, including Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., are reportedly urging Johnson and McCaskill to hold an additional hearing with Nielsen following reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly pressured acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on a major immigration decision.

Nielsen was chief of staff to Kelly when he helmed Homeland Security.

Cybersecurity specialists have largely supported Nielsen, who has an extensive cyber background. The Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., expressed concern Thursday, however, that Nielsen has never led an organization remotely as large as the Homeland Security Department.

702 Reform Advances in the House

The House Judiciary Committee approved compromise legislation Wednesday to renew controversial spying authorities contained in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., praised the bill for striking a balance between national security and individual privacy. Some lawmakers and privacy advocates are skeptical of the bill, however, because it does not require a warrant in all cases to search information about U.S. citizens.

Goodlatte will retire at the end of this Congress but was barred by term limits from continuing as Judiciary chairman regardless.

Leaker Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that the extent of spying authorized by Section 702 was much broader than imagined. The authority will expire at the end of this year if it’s not renewed.  

Coming up: Anti-virus, Info Sharing and FITARA hearings

House lawmakers have another busy tech and cyber week coming up. Here’s the rundown.

On Tuesday, the House Science Committee will hold its second hearing on a Homeland Security directive barring the Russian anti-virus Kaspersky from government systems. Top Homeland Security cyber official Jeanette Manfra will testify along with technology leaders from NASA and the Defense Department.

The House Homeland Security Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss Homeland Security Department efforts to share cyber threat information with the private sector. Two House Oversight panels will meet the same day to discuss agency compliance with the IT acquisition reform act.