DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — May 16, 2018

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Agency Activities

NSTC Interagency Committee Founded for Artificial Intelligence R&D

Earlier this month, the White House held a summit anchored by several leaders in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), including Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) head Michael Kratsios, to create the Select Committee on AI. According to Nextgov, this committee will be housed within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), and advise the White House on government AI research and development (R&D) and establish relationships between the private and public sector, as well as independent research teams. In addition to initial committee members including National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director Walter Copan and Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar, the Select Committee will prioritize whole-of-government input. Other members include National Security Council representatives, as well as members from the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to accomplish this goal.

FITARA Mandates Gain Presidential Weight with New Executive Order

In March, we reported on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report regarding the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). FITARA was passed by Congress in 2014 to provide the OMB with agencies’ data center modernization efforts. We found the OMB reported that only 59% of FITARA’s existing IT modernization recommendations had been implemented, despite the Office using FY 2016 recommendations to build a public dashboard displaying optimization performance information by the end of FY 2018.

Nextgov reported that President Trump signed an executive order yesterday spearheading presidential control of FITARA’s rollout. The Trump administration’s order serves as a “foundational stint in a multi-year journey” with a three-pronged plan to modernize federal IT. The order focuses on institutional change, placing people in key positions, and achieving early wins to gain momentum. Because FITARA hasn’t been implemented across the agencies that were tapped in the original Act, this order requires all agency chief information officers (CIOs) to convene as part of current bureau-level IT governance boards. Jared Kushner claims this addition will serve as the “true answer to modernizing government technology [which is] to build the capacity to conduct change on an ongoing basis.” By requiring CIOs to report on these boards, they can be more empowered and transparent when setting the agenda for their specific IT enterprise, which has governmentwide potential when combined across all FITARA-affected agencies.

Budget Bulletin

New Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill Funds New GAO Cybersecurity Positions, Study on OTA Revival

Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a new legislative appropriations bill. The Committee recommended $3.8 billion in discretionary funding for a variety of legislative functions, including the House of Representatives and the Congressional Budget Office, among others. The full text of the bill is available here.

The bill also recommended a $579 million appropriation for the GAO. This funding would be put towards 80 employees over fiscal year (FY) 2018 who would enable, according to the text of the bill, “an enhanced focus on cybersecurity issues and the threats to the nation’s critical infrastructure [and a] continued focus on a range of rapidly evolving science and technology issues.” This funding request follows a GAO report that U.S. cyber capabilities need to be implemented more effectively over time in 2017, as well as reports tailored to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this year.

Another recommendation came in the form of a $126 million appropriation for the Congressional Research Service (CRS). According to the bill text, the CRS was founded “to support their legislative, oversight, and representational functions by providing nonpartisan and confidential research and policy analysis.” A portion will be funded to restore the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), as well as to understand congressional resources to tackle nonpartisan science and technology (S&T) issues. The OTA was a congressional office from 1972 to 1995, during which it produced more than 700 scientific studies to propose and enact technological regulation.

Policy Pulse

Secure Data Act Introduced to Battle Against Government Tech Backdoors

Another bill was introduced last Thursday to prohibit federal data security technologies from employing encryption backdoors. The Secure Data Act—available in full here—seeks to prohibit federal agencies and court orders from requesting any technology developer or seller to alter its security functions to allow for both user surveillance and physical searches through their product by any agency.

An exception to the Act includes requests and court orders authorized under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CALEA requires certain communications technologies (i.e., telephones) be designed around surveillance capabilities compliant with legal requests for information.

The Secure Data Act follows talks in Congress around technology security and encryption. Last year, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke on “responsible encryption,” which he defines as “effective, secure encryption that allows access only with judicial authorization [where] providers retain the capability to make sure evidence of crime can be accessed when appropriate.” However, Rosenstein’s remarks have several flaws, chiefly in their misunderstanding of end-to-end encryption, where a message sent via a carrier cannot be decrypted by the carrier itself, only the sender and receiver. The Act seeks to reform thinking like this—and protect those using devices and technologies designed around end-to-end encryption, e.g., smartphone applications like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

New House Bill Sets Sights on Federal Websites, Process Modernization

California representative Ro Khanna and Texas representative John Ratcliffe introduced the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) last Thursday. In its summary, this bipartisan IDEA seeks to reduce taxpayer burdens. Live assistance calls to the IRS, for example, have cost taxpayers an average between $40 to $60, while comparable digital support costs $0.22 on average. In addition, IDEA cites a 2017 Forrester Research study on federal customer experience, which found federal sites and apps promise a worse digital experience than in-person transactions and call centers. To streamline the digital experience and reduce reliance on costly assistance calls, IDEA seeks to accomplish and standardize the following for a 21st-century customer experience.

  • Federal Agency Website Modernization—IDEA mandates that all executive agencies meet minimum requirements to improve effective and efficient delivery of digital services by making information searchable, personalized, secure, accessible for individuals with disabilities, and better using web and data analytics. Agency websites will have one year from the date of IDEA’s enactment to meet these requirements.
  • Digitize Government Processes and Eliminate Paper—IDEA mandates that all executive agencies digitize all public-facing services and paper forms. Agencies will have two years from the date of IDEA’s enactment to provide a “digital option” for any in-person government service and one year from the date of enactment to ensure any existing paper form is also digitally accessible.
  • Promote the Use of Electronic Signatures—IDEA mandates all executive agencies to use electronic signatures on contracts and related documents. Agencies will have 180 days from the date of IDEA’s enactment to submit a plan for electronic signature use.

Customer Experience and Digital Service Delivery—Each executive agency’s CIO will need to ensure the funding and implementation of the above requirements with executive agency management leaders. CIOs will continually monitor agencies’ digital service delivery, providing advice and assistance to agency leaders, and use qualitative and quantitative data relating to customer experience.

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DC Dispatch