TMF board member says the fund can't do everything

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The Small Business Administration's chief technology officer said the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) cannot help every federal agency achieve their modernization objectives despite a $1 billion plus-up for the fund included in the American Rescue Plan Act.

While the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) has helped agencies accomplish several successful modernization projects, it can only go so far in achieving government-wide digital transformations without additional congressional appropriations, the Small Business Administration's chief technology officer said Tuesday.

Sanjay Gupta, the SBA's CTO and a member of the TMF Board, said the $1 billion plus-up for the fund included in the American Rescue Plan Act "helps with one of the key problems" in budgeting for cybersecurity and modernization initiatives: Agencies lack insight into what future appropriations might hold for federal information technology spending.

"The appropriations cycle gives you the 12-month money – assuming you are lucky to get the full 12-month appropriation – and you only have the 12 months to use that money," Gupta said at an industry event. "That's where the TMF comes into play: By being able to provide that sustained and committed funding over multiple years."

"Yes, it seems like a large amount of money by the numbers itself," he said, "but when you contrast it with the overall spend in the IT landscape, it is a good amount of money, but still certainly not going to be sufficient to help every agency reach its modernization objectives."

The acknowledgement from a TMF Board member that the fund lacked sufficient resources to help all federal agencies meet their objectives echoed sentiments expressed in an annual survey of federal chief information officers (CIOs) conducted by the Professional Services Council, which found that "effective use" of the TMF "has not become the norm" across agencies. 

According to the survey, interest in the TMF had grown from 2020 to 2021, though many agencies still declined to use the fund as an alternative option to fund their modernization initiatives. 

A member of the survey team told reporters on a call at the time that some agencies "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 redirection or appropriations of funding that didn't involve the constraints that the TMF funds have."

The TMF Board announced $311 million in new awards since the additional funding, and relaxed payback requirements in an effort to attract more project proposals across agencies. Still, Gupta said the investments were not enough to meet the needs of every government agency. 

The CTO said the board was continuing to help agencies meet objectives through information-sharing partnerships and was "actively" reviewing new proposals, though he declined to indicate when new awards would be announced.