The federal CIO offered a few details of the project proposals received and upcoming award announcements.
The Technology Modernization Fund Board has picked seven projects to fund as part of the first set of awards since receiving $1 billion to help upgrade agencies’ aging IT systems.
During a hearing Tuesday held by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight, Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana gave a brief update on the modernization program and said Congress is getting a first look at the crop of awardees.
The TMF—an alternative funding method enacted as part of the 2017 Modernizing Government Technology Act—was initially created with a stringent payback model wherein agencies would apply for money then repay the fund over a three- or five-year period.
However, Congress added $1 billion to the fund as part of the second pandemic stimulus package and encouraged OMB to relax the repayment requirements in favor of funding critical pandemic and cybersecurity needs.
The TMF Board solicited project proposals from agencies and reviewed those over the summer.
“So far, we have received applications for TMF funding from 48 different agencies or components of agencies, totaling about $2.3 billion,” Martorana said Tuesday. “We have just sent up to Congress for review the first seven proposals that are going to be awarded through TMF.”
Congress does not have a direct role in picking or approving TMF awardees but OMB opted to notify lawmakers as a courtesy.
“As part of the TMF award process, [the General Services Administration] provides congressional notification prior to new project award announcements,” an OMB spokesperson told Nextgov.
Martorana said most of those projects are focused on cybersecurity, one of two areas Congress wanted OMB to focus on, along with pandemic response. She noted the supply chain hack of SolarWinds—a network management tool used throughout government—which affected at least nine federal agencies and was a specific target for TMF funds. Overall, some three-quarters of proposals the TMF Board received this summer had a cybersecurity component, she said.
While Martorana did not offer more details during the hearing—the OMB spokesperson said more information about the awards will be coming soon—the TMF Board is expected to continue accepting submissions, as the seven projects will not take the entirety of the $1 billion in the coffer.
Going forward, the board is looking for projects focused on “high-value assets—really in the swim lane of IT modernization—public-facing digital services, shared services and cybersecurity,” Martorana told the committee.
While the Biden administration has yet to release an overarching IT policy or whole-of-government modernization plan, Martorana also offered insight into her views on how federal IT systems should be developed and deployed.
“It’s important to note that not all old systems are legacy and old doesn’t always mean bad, antiquated, risky or in need of retirement,” Martorana said. “The legacy technology I am most concerned with are systems that are out of support, can’t be patched, have availability issues or can’t meet user needs or policy goals,” along with, “systems whose security cannot keep pace with our adversaries.”
Martorana said as long as systems are secure and operate in the ways users need them to, federal technologists can “deliver modern customer experiences to the public.”
Rather than concentrating on the age of specific systems, Martorana said she wants agencies developing multiyear plans that consider the entire IT enterprise under their umbrella.
“Agency investments should be aligned to an enterprise IT and cybersecurity modernization plan,” she said. “An enterprise operating model requires all agency and program leadership to work together to achieve successful investment, deployment and sustainment of modern technology.”
Martorana also called out the need to focus on user experience, whether developing systems for agency staff or citizen services.
“We are establishing a culture in government that is mindful of customer experience in delivering agency missions,” she said. “Using incremental software development, we can show our colleagues across government that service improvements are possible even within a legacy IT environment.”
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