Congress Gave OMB $1B for IT Upgrades. Now It Wants to Know How It Will Be Spent


Lawmakers want to know which projects will get prioritized and which will be recused from repaying the fund.

Congress recently gave the Biden administration $1 billion to spend on IT modernization projects and now wants to see a detailed plan on how that money will be spent.

Democratic lawmakers leading House oversight committees sent a letter to officials at the Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration requesting “the administration’s plan for the Technology Modernization Fund,” a central pot of money for agency IT upgrades that was recently allocated $1 billion.

The fund got the massive cash infusion as part of the American Rescue Plan passed in March, and the Biden administration requested another $500 million in the president’s budget proposal released last week.

“Oversight of how these funds will be prioritized and allocated, including how the funds will be subject to the reimbursement model currently required by law, is necessary to protect this significant investment of taxpayer dollars,” the members wrote in the letter.

The TMF—established as part of the 2017 Modernizing Government Technology Act—currently acts as a fund from which agencies can request loans for specific IT modernization projects. Those loans are paid back to the fund over the course of three to five years.

As part of the incoming Biden administration’s proposal for the American Rescue Plan, the president-elect and his advisers suggested the TMF program could relax its repayment requirements for critical pandemic- and cybersecurity-related projects—as well as requesting $9 billion for the fund.

While lawmakers agreed to add $1 billion, Congress has yet to make any changes to the law establishing TMF or the rules by which it is governed. OMB officials, including Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer Maria Roat, have suggested TMF program managers could suspend the repayment requirement for certain projects without additional legislation.

Tuesday’s letter acknowledges the OMB director’s authority to make such decisions on a project-to-project basis. However, “This reimbursement model was intended to ensure the TMF remains self-sustaining and ensure agencies across the federal government are able to benefit from the Fund over time and use the funds to drive modernization within their agencies,” they wrote.

“We strongly urge the administration not to let the reimbursement model atrophy during the expenditure of the investment made by the American Rescue Plan,” the letter states.

The lawmakers requested a briefing from OMB and GSA officials no later than May 7, to include a detailed plan on “how the $1 billion appropriated to the TMF in the American Rescue Plan will be prioritized and spent.”

That plan should address at least six key points:

  • How the program management office will be scaled appropriately to handle the volume of project proposals from agencies.
  • How the TMF Board will communicate opportunities to federal agencies to access TMF funding, including plans on how it might encourage proposals from agencies with the greatest IT modernization needs.
  • Criteria the TMF Board will use to determine which proposals to prioritize.
  • Criteria that OMB will use to ensure proposals that anticipate a financial return on investment have appropriate and applicable timetables for reimbursement.
  • Criteria for measuring the success of proposals that do not anticipate a financial return on investment to ensure modernization goals are met and other performance and outcome improvements are achieved.
  • Other information that OMB or GSA determines will assist in robust congressional oversight of the $1 billion fund to ensure transparency and successful implementation.

The letter was cosigned by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations; and Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.