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H.R. 39: TALENT Act of 2017

The last bill President Obama signed was H.R. 39, the Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent Act, or the TALENT Act. It is now Public Law 115–1.

What the law does

President Obama launched the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program in 2012, to recruit private sector software engineers, designers and others into the public sector for 12-month stints to improve the usability of governmental programs and websites.

Obama highlighted some of the improvements the fellows had brought about during a 2015 speech: “Thanks to their efforts, veterans have enhanced access to care and benefits they’ve earned. Families have greater access to their own electronic medical records. Police departments are making their data searchable online. More of our students gain access to high speed internet in their schools every single day.”

After Obama established the program by executive order, this bill codified its provisions into permanent law, to be run by the General Services Administration (GSA).

Who supports it

Who supported it? Seemingly almost everybody, considering the bill passed with 96 percent support in the House.

“Right now, it can still take hours for citizens to get the IRS on the phone to ask the most basic questions. Parents and students still deal with clunky user interfaces when applying for tuition assistance. And the VA still uses a scheduling system that is a quarter-century old. It doesn’t have to be this way,” lead House sponsor Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor while promoting the legislation.

> “I sponsored the TALENT Act to make sure this innovation program [the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program] continues into the future. By drawing on the great talent of the American people, we can make government effective, efficient, and accountable.”

Who opposes it

Very few people opposed the bill, but the 17 Republican holdouts were entirely right-wing Freedom Caucus members. GovTrack Insider could not track down any statements or press releases from a member voting no, possibly indicating a hesitancy to tout their opposition to such a popular bill. But the likely explanation from the Freedom Caucus crowd is opposition to the expansion of a government program at taxpayer expense, popular though it may be. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had not produced a cost estimate for the law as of this writing.

Votes and presidential signature

The TALENT Act was introduced by the House Majority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23). It passed the House 386–17 on January 11, with all Democrats in favor and Republicans largely in favor with a few holdouts, 217–7.

It then passed the Senate by a unanimous consent voice vote. Obama signed it on his last day in office, mere hours before inauguration.

McCarthy had previously introduced a version of the TALENT Act in July 2016 which passed the House 409–8, an even larger majority than this time around, but never received a vote in the Senate. That’s not to be confused with last Congress’s identically-acronymed To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation’s Teachers Act, which didn’t pass and has yet to be reintroduced in this Congress.

Last updated Feb 2, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 21, 2017.


(This measure has not been amended since it was introduced. The expanded summary of the House passed version is repeated here.) Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent Act of 2017 or the TALENT Act of 2017

(Sec. 2) This bill codifies provisions establishing the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program (originally established pursuant to Executive Order 13704) to encourage successful entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators to join the government and work in close cooperation with government leaders to create meaningful solutions that can help save lives and taxpayer money, fuel job creation, and significantly improve how the government serves the American people.

The General Services Administration (GSA) shall continue the program in order to enable exceptional individuals with proven track records to serve time-limited appointments in executive agencies to address some of the nation's most significant challenges and improve existing government efforts that would particularly benefit from expertise using innovative techniques and technology.

The program shall be administered by a Director, who shall appoint program fellows and facilitate their placement to participate in projects that have the potential for significant positive effects and that are consistent with the President's goals.

The GSA shall continue an advisory board to recommend priorities and standards for fulfilling the program's mission and to assist in identifying potential projects and placements for fellows.