IT modernization bill passes House

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Washington, May 17, 2017 | comments
Joe Uchill

A bill to fund agency efforts to modernize IT equipment has passed the House.

The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, headed by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and backed by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Virg.) and Robyn Kelly (D-Ill.), passed via voice vote Wednesday afternoon.

It provides two channels of funding that agencies can use to upgrade aging technology, which is generally considered to be less secure and more expensive to run than new technology.

"Bad actors repeatedly target the federal government," said Connolly. "Those attacks often succeed because federal computer systems are so outdated that they cannot implement network defenses as basic as encryption."

MGT is the amalgam of two bills from 2016 — Hurd's MoveIT bill that allowed agencies to keep any money they saved by buying more cost efficient technology, and an Obama administration-backed modernization fund to loan money for upgrades. Agencies would repay those funds using the savings from new technology. Both ideas are present in the resulting bill.

A version of the bill that passed the House in 2016 stalled in the Senate due to its CBO score, something the bill's backers disputed. For instance, the CBO figured that any loan payments would go through the treasury, meaning every dollar repaid by agencies counted as a new appropriation.

CBO took a more conventional stance on repaying loans this time around and the modernization fund was dropped from a multi-billion dollar venture to a maximum of $250 million a year. Both shrunk the CBO score.

Multiple systems in the government date back more than 30 years, with some as old as 50. But even more recent out of date technology costs more to maintain than up to date technology.

Old technology is harder to secure, with many government systems hard-coded in ways now known to contain security flaws.

MGT gets good reviews from security companies.

"As we look at the acceleration of attacks, especially over this weekend, making sure the government has appropriate IT is critical," said Candace Worley, chief technical strategist for McCafee (formally Intel Security).

A sibling bill in the Senate is headed by Jerry Moran (R-Kans.).
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