As President-elect Donald Trump gets his transition team up and running with less than 70 days to go before Inauguration Day, many in the federal IT community are wondering how his administration will differ from or preserve the Obama administration’s approach to federal technology.
Trump has promised to make government more efficient, and many expect Congress to move forward with plans to modernize federal IT. There could potentially be a greater emphasis on tech outsourcing and using commercial services.
The Push for IT Modernization
Little was known about Trump’s tech agenda ahead of the election, but his “platform of change, promising to scrutinize the way the government works, and streamline and reduce the size of government” aligns with much of what the federal IT community wants to do in terms of reform, Mark MacCarthy, senior vice president of public policy for the Software & Information Industry Association, told FedScoop.
“Federal IT modernization, and streamlined procurement of IT services, particularly innovative cloud solutions, is a critical component of the government’s mission, so we are optimistic that this will be a high priority in the Trump Administration,” he said.
In September, the House of Representatives passed the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2016, and it’s unclear if the Senate will take up the legislation before a new Congress is seated in January. Federal CIO Tony Scott has praised the legislation as a key element of the government’s push to modernize legacy IT.
While the MGT Act does not appropriate new money, it does authorize working capital funds at the 24 agencies governed by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. As FCW reported, these funds “drive IT modernization and bank the savings achieved from retiring expensive legacy IT and shifting to managed services.” The bill also authorizes a governmentwide revolving fund that the General Services Administration would manage.
Dave Wennergren, executive vice president of operations and technology at the Professional Services Council, said that he expects the Obama administration to engage in a flurry of activity ahead of Trump’s inauguration. “Agencies will spend money with teams they know, especially since there is no certainty of what future budgets will look like,” he said. “I imagine there will be an uptick in spending for the rest of the calendar year.”
There may also be a window for the Senate to act on MGT, said Wennergren, a former Navy CIO and deputy CIO for the Defense Department. “We would like the Senate to take action on the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) bill. I’m not sure if it is more or less likely after the election, but my hunch is less likely,” he said. “With a lame-duck Congress, why should they deal with anything more than you have to? They could pass a [continuing budget resolution] through March and not come back until the new Congress starts. I’m a little concerned. I do think the MGT bill would help and I’d hate to see a lost effort in the House.”
Trey Hodgkins, the senior vice president for public sector at the IT Alliance for Public Sector, told Federal News Radio that members of Congress who are most interested in technology and acquisition — Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on IT, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — were re-elected. That might push the Senate to act, he said.
Focusing on Commercial Solutions
Trump will likely be open to having the federal government work more extensively with commercial providers for technology solutions, according to federal IT experts. “We are also optimistic that President Trump will continue the long-standing priority to pursue a ‘buy, not build,’ or [commercial-off-the-shelf]-first approach across the federal government,” he said.
The General Services Administration’s digital services unit, 18F, might get axed, according to a MeriTalk report, which cited an unnamed senior administration official.
“The silly spending is going away. People that have actual IT experience will be put into positions,” said the official. A report from the GSA’s inspector general released last month found that the unit posted a cumulative net loss of more than $31 million between fiscal year 2014 and the third quarter of fiscal year 2016.
Meanwhile, there may be more of a push for public-private competition for government IT contracts, Federal News Radio reported. As the website Truthout reports: “Beginning in fiscal year 2009, a government-wide moratorium on public-private competitions was issued. The moratorium prohibits privatizing work that was performed by civilian government employees, beginning or announcing a public-private competition, using government funds to hold public-private competitions and converting work done by civilian federal employees to contractors.”
That might change when it comes to IT contracts. “Clearly with a Republican administration, it’s less likely for them to push for work to come into government,” Wennergren told Federal News Radio. “A Trump administration probably bodes well for the idea of relying on the private sector more, but a counter-balancing force is how much he has said he wants to shrink government spending. That may reduce IT spending no matter who does it.”