Post-Election Congressional Shuffling Could Impact Feds’ IT, Cybersecurity Plans

One of the overriding issues in the federal elections was the need to get the government’s financial house in order. In the post-election period, Republicans and Democrats have offered conciliatory comments as a deadline for resolving the issue of the fiscal cliff draws near, but positions on the issue remain very much in conflict.

One area of agreement, however, between Congress and the administration is the need to employ information technology at the federal level in more productive ways. The Obama administration’s goals for improving IT management and procurement will likely get a second wind as a result of the election. The administration’s IT management plans may garner more visibility, but initiatives generated on Capitol Hill will have an impact on agency IT managers and vendors involved in the federal market.

Among the top IT issues on the Congressional agenda for 2013 are information technology management and cybersecurity, and these could be impacted greatly by the post-election shift in committee assignments.

Information Technology Management

Normal oversight of the administration’s IT performance will likely be reinforced through consideration of a proposed IT reform plan authored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Issa has solicited industry comment on a draft bill that should take legislative form in 2013. He has proposed putting more IT budgetary power in the hands of agency CIOs; requiring agencies to pursue cloud computing and data center consolidation; requiring agencies to compile inventories of IT assets and increase the use of open source software.

“If this bill was proposed to maintain momentum for better IT management anticipating a change in government, the succession of the Obama administration makes that goal less imperative, so I would not rush to adopt the Issa bill in its present form,” Steve Charles, founder and executive vice president of immixGroup, told the E-Commerce Times.

“The emphasis of the bill is for top-down governance of IT functions, which could help, but the real issue is reforming the government appropriations process, which puts management responsibility and line-item status in the hands of individual government program managers,” he said. “Unless you address that issue, the creation of new acquisition centers or other procurement changes have limited effectiveness. You are just loading up the procurement process for agencies, and putting a greater burden on the Office of Management and Budget for oversight — and OMB just doesn’t have the resources,” Charles said.

“I would also be cautious about the bill’s emphasis on adopting open source software. Open standards are one thing, but open software is another and it can lead to a broadening of the commercial licensing process which doesn’t conform to normal practice. Congress may not fully understand that issue,” he said.

On the Senate side, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., offered tentative support for the Issa bill, noting that some parts of it dovetailed with Carper’s own work on IT within the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Chairman Issa has put together a thoughtful bill that supports several of our Committees’ and President Obama’s ongoing efforts to improve the federal government’s information technology management,” Carper told the E-Commerce Times.

“I welcome any effort and idea that seeks to ensure that we’re operating in the most cost-effective manner possible, which is why the Federal Financial Management subcommittee that I currently chair has held numerous oversight hearings on the federal government’s management of its information technology portfolio. While Chairman Issa’s bill appears to be consistent with my goal of improving our information technology management and portfolio, my staff and I are still closely reviewing all aspects of his proposed legislation,” Carper said.

Cybersecurity Measures

There is less agreement on how to approach a national program to deal with cybersecurity. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as majority leader, brought the Senate cybersecurity bill up for a vote again Wednesday, when it failed to gain approval for the second time this year. The bill failed mainly as a result of opposition to proposals providing more regulatory powers for the Department of Homeland Security and disagreement over the issue of data sharing. The House approved a cybersecurity bill last April which proponents said provides the federal government new authority to share classified cyberthreat information with approved American companies while reducing barriers to cyberthreat information sharing. The House bill did not include any new federal spending or impose additional federal regulation or unfunded mandates on the private sector.

Reid’s gambit could have been aimed at taking the measure of Senate sentiment for the bill for possible re-consideration in 2013. Another possibility is that a second failed vote in the Senate would provide the Obama administration with a rationale to impose cybersecurity measures by executive order. “There’s been no change in the bill, no new tweaks, and the death knell was that there’s no opportunity for amending the bill,” Trip Baird, director of Senate relations for the Heritage Foundation, told the E-Commerce Times. “Absent Congressional approval, the administration can then use that as a justification for executive action.”

“The administration is expected to push on this issue in the second term,” Deniece Peterson, director of federal industry analysis at Deltek, told the E-Commerce Times. However, budget and tax issues may get priority in 2013, she notes. “In the meantime, I think the administration is going to try to push as much of the cyberagenda through channels it can control, like executive orders,” she said.

Congressional Committee Changes

As with every Congressional election, there is usually a resulting change in committee assignments and leadership. Among the significant changes that could affect e-commerce are these:

In the House of Representatives, the chairmanship of the Oversight and Government Affairs Committee will likely remain in the hands of Issa. Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., should continue as chair of the important Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who represents the high-tech region of northern Virginia, is slated to be the ranking member for the Democrats. “The government reform committees are going to play a significant role in the look and shape of federal IT over the next two years as Chairmen Issa and Lankford move forward with legislation to reform federal IT acquisition,” said Mike Hettinger, vice president for the public sector innovation group, Software & Information Industry Association.

Changes are in store at the House Judiciary Committee, which monitors IT license issues, copyrights, and other intellectual property issues. Current chair Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, will likely move to the House Science Committee, thus opening the door for either Rep. Howard Coble, R-NC, or Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to contend for the Judiciary chair, according to a post-election report from Patton Boggs. Issa may be interested in the post, which could impact his status on the Oversight and Government Affairs committees.

At the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., will remain chair, but Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the current chair of the Communications, Technology and the Internet subcommittee, might take over the National Republican Congressional Committee. That could put the unit in control of either Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., or Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.

In the Senate, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is slated to move up from chair of the subcommittee dealing with IT to chair the full Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, taking over from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who retired. Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, will step down as a result of term limits, and will likely be succeeded by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), according to the Patton Boggs report. “Both Carper and Coburn have focused in the past on reducing government waste and maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of government, so we can anticipate some focus there,” Hettinger said.

The Commerce Committee will remain under the direction of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is slated to become ranking minority member. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., will likely remain chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, unless he joins the administration as either Secretary of State or Defense.

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

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