House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing On Status Of Federal Government IT

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On March 14, 2018, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform brought senior federal officials together to testify about the current state of federal government IT and modernization plans. The hearing featured David Powner, the Director of IT Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), Margaret Weichert, the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), Bill Zielinski, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the IT Category at the General Services Administration (“GSA”), and Jeanette Manfra, the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications at the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The hearing, jointly convened by the Oversight Committee’s Subcommittees on IT and Government Operations, also covered the implementation of the Modernizing Government Technology Act (“MGTA”) and other initiatives designed to ensure federal government IT systems are up to date.

IT Subcommittee Chairman William Hurd (R-TX) gave opening remarks about improvements in the federal IT landscape and areas where the government still has work to do. Chairman Hurd noted that “modernization has gained momentum from Trump Administration initiatives like establishing the Office of American Innovation, releasing an IT modernization report, and retaining good ideas from the previous Administration, including the U.S. Digital Service.”  Chairman Hurd stated that the government must also “rethink how we structure the federal workforce to ensure the federal government has access to smart, well-trained IT and cybersecurity professionals” and expressed concerns about “open, lingering vulnerabilities.”

Mr. Powner focused on the GAO’s assessment of federal agencies’ management of IT acquisitions and improvements. Mr. Powner stated that, in the past, agencies have strayed from best practices in IT acquisitions—noting, for instance, the cancellation of the Department of Defense’s Expeditionary Combat Support System in 2012 after over $1 billion was spent—and he highlighted the positive impact of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act of 2014 (e.g., through increased transparency in federal IT investments). Mr. Powner also described the modernization objectives of the MGTA, which authorizes funding for transitions from legacy federal IT systems.

Ms. Weichert emphasized the importance of modernizing federal IT processes, as well. She stated that IT modernization is a pillar of the soon-to-be-released President’s Management Agenda. Weichert noted that modernization “is the essential backbone of how Government serves the public in ways that meet its needs, while keeping sensitive data and systems secure and private.”  She added that modernizing IT will support the other pillars of the President’s Management Agenda, i.e., modernizing the federal workforce and improving transparency and accountability. Ms. Weichert described a few specific ways OMB is contributing to IT modernization efforts, such as “developing policies to reduce agency reporting burdens and to securely deploy a modern IT infrastructure.”

Mr. Zielinski testified about the importance of IT modernization initiatives and how GSA works closely with other agencies to facilitate modernization. For example, GSA reviews federal IT spend with OMB and has partnered with DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a “Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services acquisition solution,” which is a method of procurement that “provides agencies with access to qualified providers of IT security capabilities to improve agency security posture on High Value Assets.”  Mr. Zielinski further explained how GSA administers a fund established by the MGTA to improve IT and upgrade cybersecurity throughout the federal government.
Ms. Manfra of DHS stated that “cyber threats remain one of the most significant and constant strategic risks for the United States, putting our national security, economic prosperity, and public health and safety at risk.”  Ms. Manfra described how DHS is contributing to the IT modernization campaign, emphasizing that cybersecurity must remain at the heart of all new IT services. She noted that, for example, “as federal agencies begin to leverage cloud computing and mobile technologies … security solutions need to evolve” and that the federal government must “work quickly to replace legacy IT.”

Together, the witnesses provided a detailed update on modernization efforts across the federal IT landscape. Companies and individuals working with federal agencies should closely monitor these developments as they unfold to ensure that relevant IT systems are aligned whilst keeping data secure.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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