Congressman Will Hurd takes a look at a server on display during a tour of Rackspace in 2015.
Congressman Will Hurd tours the headquarters of Rackspace in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A long-anticipated, bipartisan bill designed to help modernize the government’s use of information technology was approved this week by the U.S. Senate.

The legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), could have far-reaching impacts on government cybersecurity and technology practices.

“If we’re going to change outcomes then we need to change the way the federal government does business,” Hurd told the Rivard Report Wednesday. “It’s a smart government reform bill that will change the way government operates and maintains its digital infrastructure.”

The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act and Smart Government Information Technology, which Hurd introduced, was approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday.

The MGT Act could reduce wasteful IT spending and strengthen information security by accelerating the federal government’s transition to modern technology practices such as cloud computing. Hurd serves as Chairman of the House Information Technology Subcommittee and has called for updating government IT infrastructure since his first term in Congress in 2014.

Nearly every major technology reform bill in Congress, after being introduced as a standalone piece of legislation, eventually gets attached as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill as one of the most common means used to pass government-wide legislation. Hurd first introduced the bill in 2016 and by May 2017 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation. In April, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Senate companion legislation, S. 990.

The White House Office of American Innovation supports the bill and the Trump administration’s budget proposal has authorized up to $250 million during fiscal 2018 and an additional $250 million the following year to create a general IT modernization fund, Hurd said.

Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate will negotiate the final version of the bill in conference. Once finalized, the language of the MGT Act will be included in the final NDAA version that will be sent to the White House for signature sometime in early December, Hurd said.

The federal government spends $80 billion each year on IT systems and 80% of that is spent maintaining outdated systems, according to Hurd.

“Outdated technology policies and poor cybersecurity hygiene have riddled government agencies for decades, leaving our digital information vulnerable to hacks and costing taxpayers billions,” Hurd said.

Such vulnerabilities were publicly exposed in the 2015 Office of Personnel Management’s federal employee personnel data breach.

If passed into law, the MGT Act can help the federal government address growing cyber threats and provide funds for more efficient IT practices.

When the federal government updates technology by replacing outdated technology and/or transitioning to more modern computing practices, the savings it realizes will be placed in a working capital fund that can be accessed for up to three years to support more modernization efforts. This approach eliminates the traditional “use-it or lose-it” approach to government funding that has shaped, for better or worse, the acquisition of government technology.

“Will Hurd’s leadership on this front provides a ray of hope that we can begin the long and arduous policy of modernizing and securing our government agencies without – and I emphasize the word ‘without’ – spending ourselves into oblivion,” John Dickson, Information Systems Security Association (ISSA)Distinguished Fellow and principal at the Demin Group said.

“The funding model is well suited for this,” San Antonio-based cybersecurity expert and ISSA Distinguished Fellow Jeff Reich said. “We need to remember that technology will surpass legislation and we need to able to adapt accordingly.”

A new, seven-member board of employees would work with the federal government’s chief information officer to prioritize which technologies would advance its cybersecurity and cloud computing.

“The MGT Act is a perfect example of what we can accomplish when we seek common-sense solutions in a bipartisan way,” said U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). “This major legislation to modernize the federal government’s grossly outdated IT systems will strengthen our national security and save taxpayers millions.”

Hurd is hopeful the average taxpayer will see the benefits over time.

“Improving the government’s cybersecurity will mean we will see less problems like the OPM breach,” Hurd said. Ultimately we should be using the taxpayers’ dollars in the wisest way possible to modernize our digital infrastructure.

“That means that in the future taxpayers could possibly renew a passport online or schedule [Veterans Affairs] appointments online, for example.”

Once the bill becomes law, Hurd hopes entrepreneurs in San Antonio with cybersecurity tools will also have a better chance to pitch their new technologies for government use. Once the working capital fund is in place, government customers will be able to consider the latest cybersecurity advances to enhance its digital infrastructure.

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.