The 2020 appropriations package includes billions for tech upgrades at some agencies, as well as funding for governmentwide modernization projects. In some cases, that money comes with strings attached.
Before Congress leaves for the holiday recess, lawmakers left behind some gifts for the federal technology crowd. As with many gift-giving traditions, recipients had a good idea of what was coming and are getting it a little late, but are generally grateful to get anything at all.
Along with a 3.1% pay raise across the board for federal employees, the two 2020 budget deals the House passed Tuesday have funding allocated specifically for major IT investments at almost every agency. Other programs, like the Technology Modernization Fund, are available to any agency willing to apply—though at least one department will have to jump through extra hoops.
$25 million for Technology Modernization Fund
Lawmakers once again appropriated an additional $25 million for the Technology Modernization Fund. While any additional funds help, the amount isn’t really what the program wanted.
An additional $25 million puts the fund’s upper limit at $150 million, as projects are funded and repay the loans over three to five years. That money will be used to fund several projects, though the TMF program management office and governing board would like the fund to be much more robust.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office showed the program office was not on track to be self-sustaining based on the current administrative fee structure. One of the primary reasons cited by GAO, the program office and the Office of Management and Budget was a dearth of funds, as more money going out to projects means more administrative fees to collect.
“It’s great to see that Congress has endorsed the important modernization efforts of TMF,” a senior administration official told Nextgov Tuesday, though they declined to comment on the amount allocated versus requested.
To date, the board has awarded nine projects worth a total of more than $87.5 million. After the last two awards—$8 million to the Agriculture Department and $4 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the fund had $37.5 million remaining. The additional $25 million will bump the unawarded total to $62.5 million.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who cosponsored the Senate version of the Modernizing Government Technology Act that created the fund, was pleased to see Congress continue to support the fund, as it was never a foregone conclusion. House appropriators included $35 million in their funding bill while Senate lawmakers zeroed out the fund, as they have in years past. The conference negotiations landed on the $25 million compromise.
“I applaud my colleagues from the Appropriations Committees of both chambers for prioritizing the efficiency and security of the federal government's IT infrastructure,” he said in a statement. “The TMF remains a vital tool that federal agencies should continue to consider when identifying technological improvements for their day-to-day operations and replacing their costly and vulnerable legacy IT systems."
Strings Attached for State
Other language in the appropriations bills restricts the State Department CIO from using appropriated funds to vie for TMF money without first checking with Congress. From the bill:
None of the funds made available by this Act and prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs may be used by an agency to submit a project proposal to the Technology Modernization Board for funding from the Technology Modernization Fund unless, not later than 15 days in advance of submitting the project proposal to the Board, the head of the agency: (A) notifies the Committees on Appropriations of the proposed submission of the project proposal; and (B) submits to the Committees on Appropriations a copy of the project proposal.
A Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee told Nextgov the language was included “to provide Congressional oversight of IT modernization at State, which has previously been a challenging process.”
Governmentwide IT Fund
The Information Technology Oversight and Reform, or ITOR, fund, managed by OMB, gets $15 million in the appropriations bill, to be used “for the furtherance of integrated, efficient, secure, and effective uses of information technology in the federal government,” as determined by the OMB director.
In years past, lawmakers have allocated between $8 million—for the fund’s first year in 2014—and $30 million.
While the current background investigations process is now housed within one agency—the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, formerly the Defense Security Service—all federal departments use the program to screen employees for security and suitability for government service.
The 2020 appropriations include more than $126 million “to develop, replace, and sustain federal government security and suitability background investigation information technology systems.”
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
One of the youngest federal agencies, CISA—part of the Homeland Security Department—has a dual charge that includes ensuring federal networks are secure, which it does through services like Einstein and the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation, or CDM, program. Congress appropriated nearly $1.6 billion for operations and support, $30.8 million of which is available through September 2021.
The legislation also gives the agency $435 million for procurement, construction and improvements over the next three years and $24.4 million for research and development efforts over the next two years.
General Services Administration
The Federal Citizen Services Fund, administered by GSA’s Office of Products and Programs, received $55 million in the bill. The fund supports the Technology Transformation Service, including 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows, as well as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP.
While the programs collect fees for service—and the fund can hold up to $100 million—Congress offered additional funding “in support of interagency projects that enable the Federal Government to enhance its ability to conduct activities electronically, through the development and implementation of innovative uses of information technology.”
One of the oldest IT systems in government, the IRS’ 60-year-old taxpayer database and processing system, is getting a major overhaul over the next six years, starting with a $180 million investment for the next two years. Congress included the funding—available through September 2022—to support the first phase of the agency’s business systems modernization plan, expected to cost between $2.3 and $2.7 billion.
The IRS originally requested $290 million for the 2020 appropriations cycle.
The funding the agency will get comes with strings attached:
Not later than 30 days after the end of each quarter, the Internal Revenue Service shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the Comptroller General of the United States detailing the cost and schedule performance for major information technology investments, including the purposes and life-cycle stages of the investments; the reasons for any cost and schedule variances; the risks of such investments and the strategies the Internal Revenue Service is using to mitigate such risks; and the expected developmental milestones to be achieved and costs to be incurred in the next quarter.
The agency also got a separate appropriation of $15 million to purchase “investigative technology” for the Criminal Investigation Division.
Office of Personnel Management
With Congress blocking the planned OPM-GSA merger through annual defense authorization bill, the government’s HR agency will need to continue to focus on improving its own IT. Lawmakers included $14 million to support the agency’s “information technology infrastructure modernization and Trust Fund Federal Financial System migration or modernization.”
Housing and Urban Development
HUD is getting $280 million for both IT modernization and operations and maintenance of legacy systems. However, $20 million of that outlay can carry over into fiscal 2021 if HUD doesn’t use it all.
One of the biggest IT allocations went to the Veterans Affairs Department, which is in the midst of no fewer than three major IT modernization efforts. Congress appropriated close to $4.4 billion for VA’s IT systems, including $1.2 billion in salaries, $2.7 billion for legacy operations and maintenance and shy of $428 million for new systems development.
Lawmakers also included $1.5 billion in a separate appropriation in support of the agency’s biggest modernization program: the overhaul of its electronic health records system.
Social Security Administration
The benefits agency was given $45 million to modernize its IT systems, including hardware, software and administrative expenses. What’s more, the legislation authorizes the agency to keep that money indefinitely if all appropriated funds aren’t spent in 2020. The bill falls just short of establishing a working capital fund, as authorized under the MGT Act.
The Labor Department received nearly $25.3 million for “centralized infrastructure technology investment activities” for both legacy systems and modernization efforts.
Health and Human Services
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, or ONC, was allocated $60.4 million for its work, which includes setting the standards for health IT across the board through “grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements for the development and advancement of interoperable health information technology.”
The Interior Department was given a catchall pot of $55.7 million added to a working capital fund to cover O&M for legacy systems, modernization efforts and cybersecurity, as well as “the consolidation of facilities and operations throughout the department.”
The Justice Department will get almost $33.9 million to improve its information sharing technology, “including planning, development, deployment and departmental direction.” The department’s National Security Division will also get an additional $5 million to support its IT systems.
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