New funding flexibility could help extend the reach of the Federal Citizen Services Fund

Manuel Augusto Moreno / Getty Images

The new pass-the-hat style funding tool could be tapped to fund cross-agency work.

The government funding package passed by Congress late December gave the General Services Administration's Federal Citizen Services Fund a new, pass-the-hat style funding tool to allow agencies to turn over money to GSA for multi-agency or governmentwide tech work.

That new authority, which experts say could help the agency fund existing programs like FedRAMP as well as cross-agency customer experience work, also comes with oversight measures and $200 million in spending authority – up from $150 million in fiscal year 2022. Congress also raised its annual appropriation to the fund – to $90 million up from $55 million.

"This is a rather remarkable one year reimagining of the resources and authorities GSA has to truly be the center of IT modernization and customer experience transformation," a source close to funding bill negotiations told FCW.

FCSF supports GSA programs and solutions for agencies and the public, such as, the webpage the administration is hoping to fashion into the "front door" to government. 

The fund also contributes to GSA's Technology Transformation Services, which itself houses programs including digital consulting office 18F and solutions including the government-wide cybersecurity certification and risk management program for cloud services, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. FedRAMP could be another beneficiary of the pass-the-hat funding, the source told FCW.

"From administering social security benefits to renewing passports, every day the federal government provides services that our citizens depend on," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told FCW in an emailed statement. "But despite the importance of these services, we invest too little in ensuring they are provided in a modern, secure, and user-friendly manner. This increased funding and added authority will help improve technology across our government so we can increase efficiency and better serve our constituents." Van Hollen chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government which includes GSA, the Office of Management and Budget and governmentwide technology and contracting programs.

Now, GSA will be able to accept funding transfers or reimbursements to FCSF from other agencies up to a total of $15 million for the current fiscal year to be used for "governmentwide and other multi-agency financial, information tech, procurement, and other activities… and enabling federal agencies to take advantage of information technology in sharing information."

"It's a big step forward in being able to fund cross-agency initiatives," longtime former GSA executive and founder of Dorris Consulting International, Martha Dorris, told FCW. 

Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for Government and former OMB official, told FCW that this pass-the-hat authority is different from reimbursement because it allows for payment in advance, as opposed to once a service is completed. 

The source close to funding bill negotiations told FCW that the new authority also focuses on programs and services offered to all agencies.

"Frankly, there will never be enough money to centrally fund many of the major programs and shared services at GSA (or anywhere else) directly," the individual told FCW, noting that the cap on the new authority could be raised if it proves to be successful. "So Congress is looking to provide this new pass-the-hat authority to ensure all agencies who benefit from key governmentwide programs or services that are currently funded out of the FCSF… are paying their fair share for this common benefit." 

The individual added:  "I think the programs that will move into this pass-the-hat funding model will evolve over time, once GSA has demonstrated the value to all agencies that they can benefit from one or more of the programs."

The authority "provides a new way for the Federal Citizen Services Fund to receive funds that will strengthen widely-adopted programs and shared services which have demonstrated year-after-year growth in demand, impact, and value to agencies," a GSA spokesperson told FCW. 

As for what the new tool could be used to fund specifically, one potential is customer experience work that crosses agencies. The White House has ongoing pilots to deliver government services focused on specific "life experiences" like disaster recovery across agency boundaries. But in November, an OMB and agency lead working on the project said that one major challenge has been finding cross-agency funding mechanisms to put money into the work.

The new funding tool could potentially "allow the government to respond to people in important life events where they need services that cross multiple agencies," said Dorris. "They'll probably test it out, see how it works, make sure and then it can be tweaked over time, but this is a big step forward."