Senate funding bill zeros out TMF

It's a familiar story: The House looks to add to the Technology Modernization Fund while the Senate taps the brakes

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Once again, Senate appropriators are offering zero dollars to the central revolving fund set up by the Modernizing Government Technology Act.

The Senate's Financial Services and General Government appropriation, released on Monday, includes no new money for the Technology Modernization Fund, which is currently flush thanks to a $1 billion addition included in the American Rescue Plan Act. More funding could be coming via the two-part infrastructure package sought by the Biden administration. Another $1 billion for the fund was included in the House Oversight Committee's markup of the Build Back Better legislation. However, that bill won't come to the House floor for a vote until there is a deal in place among Democratic lawmakers and the White House to advance the Build Back Better bill and a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed in the Senate.

The House of Representatives did include a $50 million plus-up to the fund in an appropriations package that passed 219-208 in July.

"It has always been an uphill battle in the Senate," Mike Hettinger, a former senior congressional staffer who lobbies on technology issues, told FCW. "The Senate has always been focused on transparency and showing results."

In the past, lawmakers have usually split the difference, with annual funding boosts in the $25 million to $35 million range for TMF.

Additionally, Senate appropriators are seeking more oversight authority over efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to tap into TMF funding. So far, Customs and Border Protection has been awarded $65 million in TMF funding across two projects.

The legislative report accompanying the DHS appropriations bill states that the committee supports efforts at DHS to obtain TMF funding and that it wants to be notified "when the department or a component agency submits an initial project proposal to the Technology Modernization Board." In the event of an award, DHS must brief appropriators "on the project and the plan for paying back the TMF, e.g., identify projected cost savings."

Senate appropriators are also allowing DHS for the first time to set up its own pot of non-year money to support IT modernization. The DHS funding bill sets up a new "Nonrecurring Expenses Fund" for the agency, funded by "unobligated balances of expired discretionary funds." Any funds that go into this account are considered available until they are spent, and can be used for "information technology system modernization and facilities infrastructure improvements necessary" for DHS operations, subject to the approval of the Office of Management and Budget.

Agencies are authorized to set up their own revolving IT funds under the Modernizing Government Technology Act, but so far few have done so.

New TMF awards on the way

Federal CIO Clare Martorana said Tuesday at an event hosted by Bloomberg that the next set of TMF awards would be announced in a matter of weeks, and added that the program management office has been scaled to address a backlog of proposals. The board announced $311 million in awards at the end of September -- the first tranche of TMF funding since the $1 billion addition to the program in March. 

Martorana, who heads the TMF board, described the investment as "the best seed funding" possible to ensure the government is making "strategic investments" in cross-agency service improvements, cybersecurity and modernization efforts. The board recently made a $187 million award to, a public-facing identity and credentialing management program that provides users with secure access to participating government programs and services.

She said the board has been meeting weekly to go through over $2 billion worth of proposals for funding. The board has been receiving assistance from federal IT workers in reviewing project proposals.