The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act continued its long and winding road through the federal legislative process. Last week the bill emerged from a House and Senate conference as part of the overall National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This is welcome news for the ongoing transformation of government IT. The MGT would allow agencies to put money saved through improved IT efficiencies into working capital funds. These funds could be accessed for up to three years, to fund efforts to modernize agency technology. There would be a centralized fund agencies could tap into for modernization. More than $500 million available in a central IT modernization fund to improve government services, then repaid over a five-year period with the expected savings from IT transformation.

The MGT moving forward was not the only good news last week for improving government IT. The NDAA also includes a provision called the Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act. This is designed to make it easier for defense and civilian agencies to quickly procure commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) IT products. As explained in an excellent story from Federal Computer Week:

“… the bottom line is that the Department is rarely able to buy off-the-shelf items quickly and at a reasonable price. The solution is obvious to most consumers – allow the government to use online commercial sites like Amazon, Grainger, Staples, or Walmart just as businesses do. These portals function like mini-marketplaces, ensuring that the buyer gets the best price without a lot of red tape. Using these portals has the added benefit of allowing DOD to track and analyze procurement data. Any business will tell you that this ‘spend analysis’ is critical to efficient operations. For the government, that kind of transparency and accountability would be revolutionary.”

Introduced by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the Act is designed to allow the DOD o use online commercial marketplaces for more of its purchases. The legislation also tries to streamline the process of contracting services by requiring the secretary of defense and the military services to provide more data analysis to explain the requirements for services contracts and to assist in the planning, budgeting, and execution process of the Department of Defense.

According to an article on the NDAA in Military Times, some have given this legislation a nickname – the “Amazon Amendment:”

“But the lawmakers did include in the compromise bill the so-called “Amazon amendment,” which will allow defense officials to buy certain items online from commercial retailers. House Committee members had said the provision would help make defense procurement less complicated and expensive.”

No one is arguing that a thorough contracting process isn’t required for sophisticated weaponry. But for basic commercial products, there is no reason why agencies should be tied up in red tape that only adds time and expense to the procurement process. Details certainly need to be worked out, among them how these new online portals would affect other federal IT contracts such as the GSA’s Schedule 70 and NASA’s SEWP government-wide acquisition contract.

In the consumer world Amazon has certainly revolutionized online shopping, speeding delivery and lowering prices. GovTransformer applauds the goals of the Amazon Amendment, and we hope it can eventually bring more transparency and speed to federal IT acquisition.