Advancing Both the Modernizing Government Technology Act and the Role of the CIO

The House Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology reintroduced a revised Modernizing Government Technology Act on April 28. The legislation intends to provide agencies with a working capital fund to reduce wasteful IT spending.

“The way we purchase IT business services is what’s preventing the introduction of the latest technology in order to defend our critical infrastructure,” said Rep. Will Hurd of Texas at the IQPC’s 4th Government IT Modernization event in Alexandria, Virginia, on April 26. “It’s preventing us from being efficient.”

Hurd, the chairman of the IT subcommittee and the MGT Act’s lead sponsor, said improving IT procurement is among the subcommittee's top priorities. Part of the reason for challenges in this area is because of a lack of appropriate budget authority given to the chief information officer, which the act is also designed to address.

According to Hurd, some agency heads and chief financial officers are still preventing CIOs from being involved in the C-suite. This has also been addressed in the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard with the plus and minus system. If the CIO sits in the C-suite, the agency gets a plus, and if he or she does not, it gets a minus.

“Something that basic of where does the CIO sit is indicative of the role the CIO has within the entire agency,” Hurd said.

This absence and lack of input also affects IT procurement and oversight. With the MGT Act and FITARA, Hurd wants to make sure CIOs are more intimately involved in those processes.

“If you’re charged with defending your digital network, guess what, you should have responsibility of what goes on that network, and make decisions on that,” Hurd said at the event.

When the MGT Act was first introduced last September, it was not supported by the Senate because of its high budget score by the Congressional Budget Office, according to Hurd.

“We learned the CBO did not understand how technology could help modernize and save money,” he said. The subcommittee has had a number of conversations with the CBO to convey the MGT Act will not cost the government $9 billion but ultimately save $9 billion.

According to the legislation, the Technology Modernization Fund will be administered by the commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service—currently Rob Cook—and is authorized at $250 million a year for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Agencies will also have five years to pay back loans to the centralized fund, and with CIO approval, they can use the agency’s IT working capital fund to do so.

The bill still includes this working capital fund for agencies so that money saved by innovating, like implementing the cloud, can be put into the fund for future use.

“It creates the motivation, and the incentive to save money,” Hurd said, which in turn, could eliminate the “use it or lose it” approach to government spending.

While the progression of the MGT Act is still in the works, Agriculture Department CIO Jonathan Alboum hopes the initiative takes budget flexibility for IT even further. At the event, Alboum said though USDA does have a working capital fund that has been used for modernization in the past, it would be even more helpful if the agency head were able to take a percentage of the overall spending at the agency and apply it to the modernization fund.

He explained this could help his administration and other large, complex organizations more efficiently secure networks. For example, USDA has 17 networks it has been trying to consolidate, but to do so using GSA’s Network Services 2020 Strategy contract vehicles would be about a $90 million lift.

“Where does that $90 million come from? It’s not evident,” Alboum said. If the agency head had the ability and authority to peel off a little bit from the agency budget for big, modernizing ideas to make the network more secure, Alboum said this could be more efficient than waiting for savings.

And because the money in USDA is largely in the programs, Alboum said there is a big disconnect between CIO oversight of the overall IT set and how much the agency spends on IT.

“The money is so far away from us,” he said, furthering the need for agency head authority to redirect funds.

Though these types of changes would take time, Hurd agreed.

“You should have 100 percent authority over that,” he said in response to Alboum. He also stressed the importance for CIOs to report directly to the agency head, as he found many CIOs in the 24 largest federal agencies don’t, including Alboum.

“That’s something that continued oversight can help address and fix,” Hurd added, and he plans to continue to use oversight in order to get CIO involvement and budget authority where it needs to be.