Survey: CIOs aren't banking on TMF for modernization

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A survey of federal CIOs by the Professional Services Council found that tech officials were not prioritizing TMF funding for IT modernization projects.

IT modernization and cybersecurity topped federal CIO priorities last year, but a key funding mechanism used to help federal agencies update their technology infrastructure may be losing favor compared to alternatives, according to a recent survey. 

The Professional Services Council's annual federal CIO survey, which covered cybersecurity, modernization, workforce and other perennial challenges, found that while CIOs expressed interest in the Technology Modernization Fund in 2021, "effective use of this fund has not become the norm." the report states. 

Simon Szykman, Maximus' senior vice president for client growth and a member of the survey team, told reporters on a Jan. 25 press call that interest in TMF increased from 2020 to 2021, but many agencies opted not to pursue it. He also noted that the responses from the CIOs surveyed may not be representative of the CIO community overall.

"At least among the organizations that we spoke to, they largely had not pursued TMF funding either because the repayment structure was not appealing, or they had just sought out other…sources for funding, including working capital funds or or redirection or appropriations of funding that didn't involve the constraints that the TMF funds have," Szykman, a former Commerce Dept. CIO, told reporters.

The survey released Jan. 25 to PSC members, found that a majority of participants had zero trust protections in place that aligned with the Biden administration's cybersecurity executive order. Additionally, while many were in process of or had completed system migrations to cloud-based infrastructure, using artificial intelligence and automation to improve data analytics was also common. 

Stephanie Sanok Kostro, PSC's executive vice president for policy, noted that a year of high-profile cyberattacks and a "flurry" of executive orders and directives in the Biden administration's first year that affect CIOs also played a role in priorities for 2021. 

"I think there was a flurry of executive orders and directives and directive type memos coming out. A lot of this is likely tied to it being the first year of the [Biden] administration. But it's also coming on the heels of SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, Microsoft Exchange -- I mean, there were a whole bunch of high profile, public attention getting incidents that I think also supported," Kostro said. 

Moreover, the resulting additional congressional attention also meant that many of those cybersecurity mandates were funded. 

"There is some, at least growing, congressional support to actually look at TMF in a new and different way in funding it. Maybe not to the extent the administration had requested, but getting the ball a little bit further down the field," Kostro said.