As the Senate looks set to vote on a general government appropriations bill in the coming week, added funding for the Technology Modernization Fund is in jeopardy.
Though the TMF is still in its infancy, the program’s chances of receiving additional appropriations in 2019 look to be dwindling, as Senators want to see results before contributing any more money.
The TMF was originally appropriated only $100 million in FY18, less than half of the $250 million authorized in the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which was signed into law in December 2017.
House appropriators chose to allocate $150 million to the fund for FY19, which would grant the TMF the $250 million over the course of two years.
But the Senate is unlikely to include such funding in their version of the bill.
“[GSA] came back this year and asked for $210 million. We said no. We have not seen results from that program yet and we don’t have any data on it. And I wasn’t going to allocate $210 million to something that we don’t know if it’s working,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
The TMF has had little time to prove its worth in advance of appropriations deliberations, as the board in charge of the fund held its first meeting in March 2018 and made its first awards totaling $45 million in June.
Many of the projects receiving those awards will likely take months if not years before yielding demonstrable results.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., called the first awards made by the TMF indicators of the program’s success.
“Given these early stage successes, I was disappointed that the Subcommittee for Financial Services and General Government, the Subcommittee that the senator from Oklahoma chairs and I’m a member of, provided no funds for the Technology Modernization Fund in the mark for this fiscal year 2019,” Moran said.
He acknowledged that the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration would need to do more in future to make public the proposals that are made to the fund and the details of the projects that are awarded money.
“I worked with the subcommittee to include specific reporting requirements in this bill for the agencies to provide Congress. Agency officials have been providing necessary information to appropriators since the markup of the bill, so progress is being made,” said Moran.
“Congress and the federal agencies must work hand in hand to provide the necessary resources to the Technology Modernization Fund, which, used responsibly, is a vital tool for the federal government task of keeping our nation's critical IT infrastructure efficient and secure.”
Moran added that, in light of public cybersecurity incidents impacting the government, such as Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, the cybersecurity of the U.S. relies on the ability to acquire and update a modern IT infrastructure.
“We must do all we can to protect and respond to cyber security attacks which is why fully funding the Technology Modernization Fund is so important to bolstering an environment that incentivizes organizations to strengthen their IT systems,” said Moran.
“Advancements in information technology or IT will continue to drive the changes in our nation's security, economic competitiveness, communications, health care, privacy and other areas. The federal government must keep pace with these changes through nimble, expeditious and result-driven decision making. A stringent and cumbersome budgeting and acquisition process has tied the hands of federal agencies in their efforts to modernize their IT systems in an efficient fashion.”
The appropriations bill is scheduled for consideration by the Senate August 1. Should it pass, Congress would then move to resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.