In its two years of existence, the federal government’s Technology Modernization Fund has backed nine projects across the executive branch. Though the TMF has been a success for several agencies, there are still around 50 project proposals the TMF board rejected, said federal CIO Suzette Kent at the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center’s TMF event Nov. 20.
Speaking at the same event, federal deputy CIO Margie Graves offered insight into reasons projects are selected to receive federal funds. At the top of list? Support from top-level leadership.
“If we don’t see clear support from the highest levels of the agency," then the money may not be awarded, Graves said. “That’s really the key.”
Graves pointed to the Department of Agriculture as a prime example. At USDA, Secretary Sonny Perdue has pushed the department of prioritize IT modernization.
“When you have somebody who’s driving toward that goal in everything that they do within an agency” is vital, Graves said.
The TMF board also evaluates whether the technical approach to the project is “up to snuff," Graves said. And it considers the talent of the team designated to work on the project.
Also considered is the potential return on investment and how the project can benefit several federal agencies that have similar issues, instead of just the single agency awarded.
"We’re asking those who [finish projects] to actually come back to the table with their learnings,” Graves said.
While TMF projects progress, the teams provide the board with status updates and lessons they’ve learned along the way. Graves said that allows the board to pass those best practices out to the federal government at large through the CIO council or forums.
We want “to make sure that all boats are rising ... [and] everybody is learning,” said Graves.
While the TMF has helped several agencies make significant gain, it is under significant budget pressure from Congress. Its budget was reduced from $100 million to $35 million in fiscal 2019, but a recent Senate proposal appropriated $0 for the fund. The final number is still under negotiation.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.