Why more agencies aren’t applying for TMF funds

Despite general agreement the Modernizing Government Technology Act was a win for federal IT, just nine projects were initially submitted for money from the central IT fund the law created.

men dragging servers uphill

The consensus among the federal IT world is that government is in desperate need of modernization, and that more money up front is essential to advancing that cause.

Yet despite general agreement passage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act was a win for federal IT, just nine projects were initially submitted for money from the central IT fund the law created.

Why haven’t agencies been more eager to submit plans?

Department of Transportation CIO Vicki Hildebrand said while she was “excited it’s there,” her agency has not yet submitted a plan for consideration.

“I may tap into it, but I’m not ready yet,” she said. “It will be a while before I tap into it because we have a lot of duplicative spend and we don’t have a strategic resourcing program right now that we’re working on.”

Hildebrand pointed to Transportation’s federated structure, adding “as we bring that together, there is a lot of opportunity to reinvest.”

Within a federated department, that structure can also cause delays for its component agencies. FEMA CIO Adrian Gardner, for instance, said his agency didn’t submit one by the first deadline because it was waiting for more guidance from DHS.

David Shive, CIO of the General Services Administration, whose commissioner serves on the TMF board that decides where that $100 million will go, said GSA does have some plans in the works.

Other agencies have been focused on the agency-level working capital funds, which MGT Act’s original sponsor Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) has called “the meat of the bill.”

Small Business Administration Deputy CIO Guy Cavallo, for example, said SBA wants “to pursue using our own fund, once approved and created [versus] using the TMF fund.” SBA CIO Maria Roat also serves on the TMF board.

Conversely, the absence of agency-level working capital funds — or at least plans for repayment — “seems to be the biggest reason some people are moving more slowly,” said longtime private- and public-sector CIO Steve Cooper.

Department of Education CIO Jason Gray said this was the case for his agency, which hasn’t submitted a plan yet “because we don’t have a working capital fund.”

As a result, the department is working on a repayment plan, he said, but stressed that Education has a range of manual process he’d like to tackle through the funds created by MGT.

Other CIOs see the central fund as a great opportunity.

“I personally think all kinds of projects are appropriate for this thing,” said Chad Sheridan, CIO at the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency.

Ken Rogers, the acting deputy CIO for Business Management and Planning at the State Department, said his agency submitted a plan “to look at an overseas [Trusted Internet Connection],” but added the TMF board didn’t fund the plan this round because it wasn’t “shovel-ready.”

TIC policies are specifically named as a priority in the final Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization.

Not making the final four “doesn’t deter us” from submitting plans for TMF dollars in the future, Rogers insisted. “The MGT Act is a great program.”

Rogers noted State already has a working capital fund, as well as a central IT fund that serves a similar modernization purpose within the department that the TMF does across government.

Cooper, whose federal experience includes service at the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security, said he understands why the three-year payback rule may be daunting for agencies looking to pursue large-scale modernizations.

“That’s the dilemma I think some CIOs are facing,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out, ‘look, how do I tackle my complex legacy stuff, how do I make a practical difference, show it, and pay it back in three years?’”

Cooper suggested that simpler plans, such as moves to the cloud or adoption of commercial programs that could cost less than $2 million while boosting security, “would be, in my mind, a value-added effort that could be done in virtually any department.”