Written byCarten Cordell
Though Congress and the White House have expressed public support for current legislation to change the way the federal government buys information technology, one powerful adversary remains: the congressional calendar.
The Modernizing Government Technology Act has been waiting in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee since it passed the House by voice vote in May. But with an upcoming session that includes budget negotiations, debt ceiling negotiations, possible tax reform proposals and the threat of a sequester, there may be little time for the bipartisan bill.
In an effort to speed MGT’s ride through the Senate, Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., proposed the bill as an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act in August — a move used several times in the past to enact technology legislation as part of the annual defense bill.
But officials at the Professional Services Council said that congressional debate could stall that plan as well.
With the clock ticking on the legislative calendar, here are three ways MGT can become law this year, plus which is most likely:
Option 1: Pass the House bill
MGT has always had strong support in the House, where it passed unanimously in 2016 and again by a voice vote in the spring. That support ebbed late last year in the Senate, thanks in part to a Congressional Budget Office ruling that it would cost $9 billion to implement.
House co-sponsors Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., retooled the bill in 2017, trimming costs to $500 million, but Alan Chvotkin, PSC executive vice president and counsel, said that while a straight up-and-down vote in the Senate would be the path of least resistance to making MGT law, don’t hold your breath.
“I think the fastest route to enactment is for the Senate to pass the House-passed bill without change. I don’t think that’s likely, because they’ve had that opportunity for months,” he said at an Aug. 30 event at the for the contractor trade association’s headquarters. Senate leaders do sometimes call up noncontroversial House bills for quick voice-votes, but it’s tough to predict when any bill might get that treatment.
He added that though the Senate committee is weighing whether to add amendments to the MGT bill, most of the changes could be done through administrative guidance after it’s enacted. The committee has yet to set a markup for the legislation.
Option 2: Pass the Senate bill
Moran and Udall introduced their version of the bill on April 28 and it was subsequently referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel. It has not been heard from since.
This option is very similar to the House bill route, except that if it emerged from committee and passed the Senate, it would still have to go back to the House for a vote.
Option 3: Pass the NDAA
This was the favored route for landmark technology bills like the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, in 2015 and the Clinger–Cohen Act of 1996, mostly because the NDAA is almost guaranteed to pass each year.
But it’s not without its downside.
“That’s only slower because you then have to wait for the conference on the NDAA to occur,” Chvotkin said. The NDAA almost always goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where amendments get a hard second look from negotiators, who tend to be from the Armed Services panels in each chamber. The House version, completed this summer, does not include MGT language.
“Because MGT is outside the jurisdiction of the House Armed Services Committee, they would have to get approval from relevant committee jurisdiction — in this case the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — either as additional conferees or they would wave jurisdiction on the final conference version,” Chvotkin said.
It’s worth noting that Senate leaders haven’t even announced when they might make time to consider the NDAA. And it’s possible that an amendment like the MGT legislation might need 60 votes to be added to the bill.
Because of the complexity of the NDAA process, Chvotkin said that PSC anticipates it will pass in November or December.
While this route will take the longest, it remains the most likely at the moment, given the Senate’s lack of movement on the stand-alone MGT bill. But the fortunes of legislation on Capitol Hill are frequently subject to change. Stay tuned.