Why Federal IT Leaders Set Aside $100M for Customer Experience

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Creating a distinct pool of funding for customer experience improvement projects is part of a three-pronged strategy to show agencies the administration is serious about CX.

Biden administration officials want agencies to know they are serious about improving the experience citizens have when accessing government services and have taken the unprecedented move of cordoning off a portion of the Technology Modernization Fund to be allocated only to programs with a specific focus—in this case, CX.

In the past, leadership made calls for agencies to submit proposals for specific focus areas, such as giving a deadline for cybersecurity pitches in the wake of the $1 billion cash infusion as part of the American Rescue Plan. In that case, the incentive was expedited consideration, but there was no goal—or cap—on the dollar amount to be awarded.

But the $100 million set aside for CX is new for the TMF and marks a change in how the funding is prioritized and administered.

“We felt it was important to call out CX as kind of a streamlined fund, because we weren’t having any problems with the more traditional TMF investments: IT modernization, cybersecurity, shared services. We continued to get a flow of those,” Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said during a panel this week at FCW’s CX Summit.

Martorana said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted issues with federal systems, particularly those that provide benefits or other services to citizens.

“We really felt like we needed to call [it] out, in combination with the President’s Management Agenda and the executive order, providing that guidance so that people would realize this is available to them for customer experience specifically,” she said.

“It’s more of a targeted focus on investments that we think can maximize impact on people,” TMF Executive Director Raylene Yung said.

“Fundamentally, we’re looking for things that really move the needle or have the biggest bang for your buck on end-user impact,” she said, such as projects that bridge multiple agencies or offer a shared service that can address a governmentwide need.

To Martorana’s point, CX has been a policy focus for this administration, including numerous calls to bring CX-focused projects to the TMF Board for consideration.

But the move to restrict a pool of TMF funding specifically for CX is an important one, according to Mina Hsiang, administrator of the U.S. Digital Service, who highlighted just how important it is to have all three pieces—the funding, the metrics in the PMA and the executive order.

“We all know that there are many, many things that an agency needs to be doing,” she said on the panel. “What gets measured and what gets prioritized by leadership and strategy is what people end up spending time and energy on. So, some of this is just about a statement of strategy and providing top-cover for people.”

The TMF program office has given agencies until September 30 to apply for funding from the CX set aside.