The Senate passed the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act as an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who shepherded the House version of the bill, spoke with Federal Times about its chances in conference, what it means for federal CIOs and what’s next for government IT legislation.

The last piece of major federal legislation to get passed, FITARA, was also wrapped into NDAA. What do you think about using the defense authorization bill to take care of civilian IT issues?

I think it’s a vehicle to move legislation. And it’s going to be something that ultimately impacts the Department of Defense, as well, as well as security and being able to improve the defense of the .gov infrastructure. I think it’s within the same realm of making sure that we’re defending our digital infrastructure.

Are you expecting the IT modernization amendment to change at all in conference?

I take every step in the process separately. But the likelihood that there are any changes are low. Whenever you have agreement in the House and Senate on something, that is unlikely to be something that’s changed in the conference.

I feel good because the majority leader and the policies office and [Rep.] Steny Hoyer [D-Md.] have been instrumental in getting this legislation moving. The recent legislation in the Senate, with Sen. [Ron] Johnson [R-Wisc.], Sen. [Jerry] Moran [R-Kan.] and Sen. [Tom] Udall [D-N.M.] putting this all together, I think we’re not going to have any problems with the conference committee.

I’m looking forward to getting this to the president’s desk to sign and getting this new tool to the CIOs across government.

How the law actually rolls out will depend on the guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget. What would you like to see in that guidance? What would you like OMB to know about your intent behind the legislation?

OMB and the Office of American Innovation have been instrumental in the process. We’ve been working with them from the very beginning on the intent and the capabilities. They’ve already put in a lot of time and significant effort thinking through how to use the MGT Act as a tool for CIOs to modernize and to upgrade to the latest technology.

My advice to OMB is, this is a tool designed for federal CIOs to modernize: give them the broader authorities and powers to utilize this tool.

The main funding mechanism requires agencies to reprogram funds. There is also a central working fund, but no dollar-figure attached in the MGT Act. How big should that central fund be and how should it be used?

I think what we had in the recent [budget] legislation – $250 million – is more than enough. I think the real focus of MGT was having every federal agency be a laboratory in how to do modernization.

Some are better prepared to take advantage of MGT than others. Those ones that aren’t as prepared, utilizing this centralized fund will be a vehicle to help jumpstart those modernization activities.

I was always fine with the $250 million number. I think the president’s budget was fine with that level of appropriation.

How do you think the bill turned out and what impact will it have on federal operations?

I’m excited to finally get this done. I feel good that we are now giving another tool for our federal CIOs to introduce the latest technology to defend their digital infrastructure and provide a more efficient service to the American people.

It’s a good day.

If MGT does make it through reconciliation, what’s the next big federal IT legislation you’d like to work on?

By the end of the next fiscal year, integrating the oversight of these working capital funds into the FITARA scorecard.

We call it the FITARA scorecard but it really is a digital hygiene scorecard. So, making sure to see whether agencies are utilizing these working capital funds or not. It’s another point we’ll be able to do oversight on. That’s step one.

Now, legislatively, the big initiative we’re going to move to now is the concept of a Cyber National Guard. It’s something that we’ve been talking about and researching on and I think we have an idea on a framework of how to get this done. Now it’s time that my staff and my team will be able to focus our attention on over the next few months.

Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.

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