Trending in DC: IT Modernization

IT pic

Chalk up IT modernization as a hot issue for both Congress and the White House.

Spurred by the desire to protect the government’s aging information technology systems from growing cyberattack threats, and reduce maintenance costs, new initiatives and legislation proposed in the past week aim to upgrade legacy IT systems.

Republicans control both chambers and the executive branch, but some initiatives have also drawn support from Democrats – and from the tech industry, which stands to gain financially from an IT overhaul.

The federal government currently doles out more than 75 percent of its more than $80 billion IT budget to maintain legacy IT systems, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a 2016 report. Total prime, unclassified contract spending on IT hardware and services totaled $56.3 billion in fiscal year 2016, according to Bloomberg Government data.

Congress launched the charge last week with a bill that has drawn bipartisan, bicameral support, as well as backing from the White House, Technet, a tech advocacy group, and ITAPS, which represents such companies as Apple Inc. and Inc.

The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, spearheaded by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), creates capital pools to help agencies fund transitioning to more modern systems, like cloud computing. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced sister legislation in the Senate the same day (S. 990).

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform passed the bill May 2. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said it would receive floor consideration as soon as it won committee approval.

The White House followed up by establishing an American Technology Council, a body created to advise the president on IT policy and coordinate ways to better use and deliver government digital services, according to an executive order released May 1. The 19-member council will be led by former Microsoft executive Chris Liddell and include President Donald Trump; Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner; Vice President Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross among its members.

This isn’t the first IT panel created by Trump’s White House. In March, it established an Office of American Innovation, headed by Kushner, that’s also aimed at modernizing government IT.

Nor is this the first White House to tackle government IT improvements. The Obama administration worked to streamline the federal government’s tech systems, launching initiatives such as the U.S. General Service Administration’s Technology Transformation Service and White House’s U.S. Digital Services, both of which were created to help serve the public through better IT development on the federal level.

The heads of those services are also slated to join the technology council.