Lawmakers Have One More Shot To Raise Modernization Fund Ceiling

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As the administration awaits word on additional funding, officials say they have about a dozen projects under consideration.

As the 2019 appropriations process wraps up, lawmakers will have one last chance to add money to the Technology Modernization Fund or effectively cap it at 2018 levels.

Congressional appropriators from the House and Senate met Thursday to conference on the Financial Services and General Government minibus spending package, which covers a number of agencies and programs, including the TMF, managed by the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration. The House-passed version of the bill included an additional $150 million. But Senate appropriators zeroed out the line item, citing a lack of transparency from the administration.

“We have not seen results on that program yet and we don’t have any data on it,” Senate Appropriations Committee member James Lankford, R-Okla., said July 31 during floor debate on his chamber’s version of the bill.

Congressional watchers were expecting the conference committee to come to an agreement on the Financial Services minibus Thursday but no announcement had been made as legislative work wrapped. Lawmakers will be off for a week, with the next vote scheduled for Sept. 25.

The last-minute allocation is key for the fund, as the Modernizing Government Technology Act only allowed for appropriations in the 2018 and 2019 budgets. No additional funding would cap the revolving fund at $100 million in the absence of new legislation.

The TMF Board has already awarded $45 million to three projects, all of which have received the funding and are in the process of beginning their IT modernization projects. The three agencies—the Energy, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development departments—now have five years to pay back the fund.

The board currently has “about a dozen” proposals on its table at varying levels of review, according to Elizabeth Cain, acting executive director of the TMF program management office based out of GSA.

“We have a bunch of proposals that are in various stages of review right now, in both the pre-submittal phase and the full project proposal phase,” Cain said during a Nextgov webcast Wednesday.

“We’ve got a busy fall,” she said, adding the next set of awards “should be in the near-term but not too near-term.”

More For Your Money

The board members aren’t just buying better IT for select federal agencies; they’re also buying experience, which will be presented in the form of modernization playbooks.

“Each of the teams that received the award, in addition to the funding they have a solemn duty to get back to the rest of the community with their lessons learned and inform the larger playbook,” Cain said Thursday at a lunch hosted by the Association For Federal Information Resources Management, or AFFIRM.

She cited Energy’s consolidation to a single cloud email platform—which will add more context to a well-worn path in modernization—and Housing and Urban Development’s mainframe migration—which will include the difficult task of moving from decades-old Cobol coding language to something modern.

For Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner and board member Alan Thomas, the playbooks are a central value-add.

“We’re looking to create models—100 million bucks is not enough to modernize the federal government,” he said Thursday. “But we are looking for models that we can show and highlight and other agencies can say, ‘Ah, OK, I see how to do this,’ or, ‘I see a path to do this,’ and then get some additional benefit beyond the $100 million we have.”