IT Modernization Bill Heads to President

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

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

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Congress passes the Modernizing Government Technology Act as part of the defense authorization bill.

What began as an attempt by one Texas congressman to provide federal agencies new means to modernize their old and outdated systems will head to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature.

The Senate Thursday passed the National Defense Authorization Act that contained a modified version of the Modernizing Government Technology Act, introduced by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, in the House and Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., in the Senate earlier this year. The House passed its version Tuesday with a vote of 356 to 70.

“Our federal agencies will finally have the motivation to catch up with the 21st century and embrace emerging technologies so that we can leave behind these antiquated legacy IT systems that have plagued our government for decades,” Hurd said in a statement.

Dozens of the government’s most important IT systems are four decades old or older. Legacy systems tend to cost more to operate and are often prone to cybersecurity concerns. The MGT Act creates a $500 million central modernization fund over two years through which agencies can borrow against to update aging, unsecure systems. It also creates working IT capital funds that agencies can stash savings from other modernization projects—like migrating to cloud computing—to use for future projects.

Moran introduced the MGT Act as an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA and it survived the conference committee, where lawmakers negotiated the differences between the Senate and House versions. Other IT-focused efforts didn’t make the cut, such as the OPEN Government Data Act, though that bill was folded into the Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act that the House passed yesterday.

“Passage of the bipartisan MGT Act will save taxpayers many millions of dollars and strengthen our cybersecurity,” Udall said in a statement. “As it stands, the federal government spends over $80 billion on IT—but 75 percent of that money is being spent to maintain old and legacy systems that date back to the time of dial-up modems and dot-matrix printers.”

Moran, who championed MGT through the Senate, said the “bipartisan legislation will propel our inefficient, outdated federal IT systems into the 21st century to promote productivity and strengthen cybersecurity.”

Last year, Hurd introduced a version of the MGT Act that passed the House but stalled out in the Senate, in part because the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $9 billion to implement from 2017 through 2021. For this version, Hurd said he worked with CBO and sought counsel from the Government Accountability Office to ensure the new bill will save government money, not add to its spending woes.

Editor's note: The story was updated to clarify who introduced legislation.