IT bills to watch during Congress’ ‘lame duck’ session

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Congress continues to send IT bills to President Trump’s desk for his signature, but only three weeks will remain to pass any lingering legislation when both chambers resume session on Nov. 30.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Nov. 17 that would codify the General Services Administration‘s Centers of Excellence (CoE) program, which helps agencies modernize their IT.

CoEs, of which there are 10 currently, would be responsible for improving cooperation between agencies and industry in areas like artificial intelligence, cloud adoption, contact centers, customer experience, data and analytics, and infrastructure optimization.

“Ensuring that our government has the capabilities and expertise to help navigate the impacts of the latest technology will be important in the coming years and decades,” co-sponsor Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “I applaud the Senate for passing this legislation and urge President Trump to sign it into law soon to ensure our government agencies have the insight and resources they need to better understand the benefits and pitfalls of this technology.”

Should Trump fail to sign the bill — his daily schedule remaining light since losing reelection — Congress should still be able to make it law. The House already approved Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Meadows’, R-N.C., legislation by voice vote Sept. 30, so the votes should be there to override any presidential veto.

The same is true of Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner’s Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which would enhance safeguards on internet-connected devices like smart sensors and encourages vulnerability disclosure. That bill passed the Senate unanimously, having already passed the House by voice vote, on Nov. 17 as well.

Some legislation in limbo

The outlook for other pieces of IT legislation remains unclear, however, like Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly’s bill to codify and fund the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. FedRAMP authorizes and continuously monitors cloud service offerings across agencies, and the FedRAMP Authorization Act would have GSA begin automating those processes while establishing a 15-member Federal Secure Cloud Advisory Committee to coordinate acquisition.

Connolly’s bill passed the House by voice vote long ago on Feb. 5 and went to the Senate, where it remains with the Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, made it known that he wanted to Congress to vote on a national AI strategy solidifying U.S. economic and national security leadership in that field before he leaves office. But his concurrent resolution with Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., is still sitting with several committees more than two months later.

The nonbinding resolution consists of 78 actions, such as increasing technology education funding; partnering with allies to prevent AI misuse by foreign adversaries like China and Russia; creating a national computing and data resource; and mitigating bias while enacting privacy legislation.

Hurd was hopeful the resolution could pass during Congress’ “lame duck” session.

Also on the AI front is Rep. Jerry McNerney’s bill to codify the AI CoE within GSA, establish an advisory board for governmentwide AI policy challenges, have agencies develop AI governance plans, and have the Office of Personnel Management evaluate an occupational series with AI skills and competencies.

McNerney, a Democrat from California, wants the Congressional AI Caucus, which he runs along with new co-chair Portman, to build support for much-needed AI legislation including efforts to establish an AI lexicon. His AI in Government Act passed the House by voice vote on Sept. 14 and is eligible for Senate floor consideration, but there’s been no word.

Warner is pushing a second bill that would invest $1.5 billion in open radio access networks (O-RANs), which will move 5G network design from being hardware- to software-based — playing to U.S. contractors’ strength. The hope is a Western-based alternative to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE will emerge, given the national security risks those companies’ close ties to the Chinese government pose.

But the Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act remains with the Senate Commerce Committee after passing the House by voice vote on Nov. 17.

The current Congress officially ends on the morning of Jan. 3.

-In this Story-

5G, artificial intelligence (AI), FedRAMP, General Services Administration (GSA), information technology, Internet of Things, Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
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