Our world is increasingly dominated by digital technology, with our everyday lives revolving around it. From shopping and banking to healthcare and education, our reliance on digital platforms is pervasive. And if the pandemic reinforced anything, it’s that digital government services and communications are important. Yet, despite this digital revolution, our federal government continues to grapple with outdated legacy IT systems.

This needs to change.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial we recognize the need to modernize our federal IT infrastructure and provide the necessary funds for such upgrades. Unfortunately, it appears Congress has other plans and may take the “fund” out of the Technology Modernization Fund.

The TMF, which received $1 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, is a crucial tool in achieving this modernization. However, the current budget threat could significantly undermine our nation’s progress towards a more efficient, secure, and future-ready digital infrastructure.

Moreover, our federal agencies continue to grapple with burdensome, unfunded mandates. Over the years, a steady stream of legislation, executive orders, and policy guidance have called for the modernization of our aging federal IT systems. And while this has resulted in some notable progress, it hasn’t been enough. Each year, the U.S. government spends over $100 billion on information technology.

Most of that will be used to operate and maintain existing systems, including aging — or “legacy” — environments. These systems can be costly to maintain and vulnerable to hackers. Our agencies still struggle with legacy software – software that absorbs almost 80% of their IT funding. Moreover, they lack an overarching IT strategy to guide their efforts and help channel their funding more effectively.

While there is still plenty of progress to be had, the TMF has played an invaluable role in driving this journey since its inception in 2018. It has provided the means to reduce maintenance costs of legacy systems, detect fraud, enhance cybersecurity, and protect sensitive data. By managing nearly $700 million for 38 investments across 22 federal agencies, the TMF has shown its capability to evolve, grow, and address emerging requirements.

It’s not just about managing funds. It’s about security. In a world where cyber threats are growing, withdrawing hundreds of millions from the TMF will have grave consequences for our nation’s cybersecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the severity of this threat, showing us how vital government services can be disrupted by obsolete IT systems. Congress’s $1 billion investment to modernize government IT in response to this was a step in the right direction – a commitment we must continue to support.

Funding for federal IT modernization, as provided through the TMF, is not a one-off expense. It’s a long-term investment in the future of our public services. Technological advances necessitate regular updates and replacements to keep up with progress and maintain resilience against new challenges. For example, the U.S. government has decades of technical debt that it needs to address as the development and use of Artificial Intelligence capabilities takes place.

Multi-year technical funding is necessary to allow agencies to take advantage of AI while upgrading their systems to a multi-cloud environment. Taking away TMF dollars will not only burden taxpayers with the cost of continuing to maintain outdated systems, but also increase our vulnerability to cyber threats and limit the government’s ability to implement emerging technologies.

The TMF’s innovative funding model is necessary to satisfy the unique planning and budgeting requirements for cyber and IT. It allows agencies flexibility in repayment outside the traditional budget cycle, making it possible to undertake urgent IT projects. The model has demonstrated that agencies can deliver modern, secure services while maintaining accountability and transparency for taxpayers.

In many cases, TMF funding has set agencies on the path to digital modernization, resulting in measurable benefits to the public. From veterans accessing service records to food supply safeguards, the TMF’s influence is felt across a range of sectors.

It’s time we rally together to support the future of our nation’s digital infrastructure. We urge Congress to honor its commitment to IT modernization in the American Rescue Plan and continue investing in fiscal 2024 and beyond. The need for full funding of our government’s IT modernization programs has never been more urgent.

As Congress looks to finalize appropriations for the coming year, ensuring robust investment in the TMF should be the administration and Congress’s top technology funding priority.

Bill Wright is the head of Global Government Affairs at Elastic, a provider of search services to government and businesses.

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