TMF set to receive $1B infusion in COVID relief bill

Former federal IT leaders told FCW that the boost for the Technology Modernization Fund is welcome, but the big money may necessitate process changes.

tech budget

The Technology Modernization is poised to receive one heck of a present for its three-year anniversary – a $1 billion funding injection from Congress that would dramatically its capitalization.

The TMF was founded by the Modernizing Government Technology Act and launched with $100 million. The fund has received three $25 million appropriations but overall has remained small – especially considering lawmakers initially sought to fund it with $3 billion.

The House of Representatives included $9 billion for TMF in its initial version of the bill, but that provision was scrubbed after objections from many in the Senate. However, TMF backers in the Senate managed to include $1 billion their version of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. The bill also contains other tech funding, including $200 million for the U.S. Digital Service and $650 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for risk mitigation on federal networks and systems.

The TMF money is good through the end of fiscal year 2025.

"I remain hopeful that it gets all the way through," former federal CIO Suzette Kent told FCW. "It would be an incredible accelerator for digital citizen services, cybersecurity tools, advancing the data agenda, cross agency shared capabilities and end-to-end hardening of some of the remote work and online services put in place rapidly as part of COVID response."

Former NASA CIO Renee Wynn is also a big supporter of the fund, and in an email she highlighted the connection between COVID relief and IT modernization.

"COVID provided a learning opportunity for understanding the importance of IT as well as the national security concerns associated with supply chain risk," she told FCW. "TMF is a way to mitigate these risks as long as the executive leadership of an agency understand this opportunity and can work within their agency to make an informed, risk-based decision."

Former deputy federal CIO Margie Graves said that some administrative changes could be needed as the fund grows. The current scheme is for agencies to present projects to a board, with two stages of approval required to obtain funds. That process has so far yielded 10 projects in various stages of completion, according to the TMF website.

"I think possibly….the structure of how it gets adjudicated probably needs to change because the way we had the board set up for $25 million to $100 million is not going to work for this," she said. The concern is that the current approach could slow down the process.

"Now that the number is bigger, the actual throughput would have to be expanded," Graves said. "We can't create our own bottleneck in terms of approval and oversight."

Graves also noted that agencies need to have a sense of their own needs – the critical systems that are most in need of upgrades and plans to implement new technologies.

Wynn observed that "some agencies lack the plans to capitalize on this opportunity," and noted that among chief financial officers and mission leaders there is a focus on how to pay back the fund and that some outreach to agency leadership would help sell senior executives on the potential benefits of TMF.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on Wednesday on the Senate-passed version of the American Rescue Act. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill.