Technology Modernization Fund Board Doesn't Want Boring Proposals

Viktoria Kurpas/

Agencies that want a shot at funding had better make their proposals interesting.

The General Services Administration on Friday offered agencies tips and tricks for cashing in on the $55 million left in the 2018 Technology Modernization Fund.

To access funds, agencies must first submit an initial project proposal to the TMF Board, which will review the pitch and select finalists for more detailed second-round reviews. In the GSA’s proposal writing workshop, TMF officials touched on the key factors the board looks for in each section of the pitch and offered one overarching recommendation for applicants to follow through the entire process: Don’t be boring.

“Your initial project proposal needs to really sell your project in a way that intrigues the board, gets them interested and outlines enough of your approach that they feel like you know what you’re talking about,” TMF Executive Director Liz Cain said during the event.

While agencies might be tempted to address every intricacy of their project in the initial application, Cain advised groups to stick with a broad overview of how it will benefit their mission and provide a return on investment. The board will help refine the project’s finances and technical details once it advances, but first “you got to get to that next round,” she said.

Created under the Modernizing Government Technology Act, the fund offers agencies upfront investments in initiatives to upgrade critical legacy IT, which they must repay in increments over time. Congress allotted $100 million to the fund for fiscal 2018, but nearly half is off the table since the board announced its first three project selections on Thursday.

The winning projects include a customer experience portal for the Agriculture Department’s for $10 million; migrating the Energy Department’s email to a cloud environment for $15 million and accelerating the migration of a Housing and Urban Development mainframe application for $20 million.

Cain noted the initial picks are among the more costly proposals, and future applicants should shoot for “a sweet spot” of $2 million to $10 million in funding. She also stressed the board favors projects that other federal agencies could reuse and show a potential for cost-savings in the long run.

When looking for agency leaders to sponsor different initiatives, groups should “aim as high as [they] can get,” Cain added. “It’s all about who you’ve got in your corner ... and making sure you’re integrating [the project] into your agency’s broader strategy.”

Though the board has obligated almost half the TMF for 2018, Congress has the opportunity to reallocate funds for coming years and board members are optimistic about that prospect.

“[TMF] really is revolutionary in changing how things get funded,” said Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Alan Thomas, who sits on the board. “If we pick the right kind of projects and the right kind of people and have success, I think it’s the sort of thing the Congress and this administration and subsequent administrations will continue to fund and find value in.”