Senator threatens TMF’s 2019 funding without showing results

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The Senate passed appropriations legislation Wednesday that includes $154 billion in discretionary funding across multiple agencies. But not a penny of it would go to the Technology Modernization Fund — at least not yet, if one senator has it his way.

The Interior, Environment, Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which passed the Senate 92-6, doesn’t include fiscal 2019 funding for the TMF after Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., cited a lack of information from agencies on why more funding is needed.

“We’ve not seen results from that program yet and we don’t have any data on it,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., chairman of the Financial Services and General Government  Subcommittee. “And I wasn’t going to allocate $210 million to something that we don’t know that it’s working.”

The central fund was created as part of the Modernizing Government Technology Act to provide agencies with a way to apply for seed money to finance large IT modernization projects.

Headed by a seven-member board that includes Federal CIO Suzette Kent, the TMF fund was established with $100 million initial funding passed in March as part of a fiscal 2018 omnibus package. In June, the fund awarded $45 million to the departments of Agriculture, Energy and Housing and Urban Development.

The President’s February budget plan requested $210 million for the fund, but the House version of the appropriations bill trimmed that amount to $150 million when it passed last month.

Lankford said denying appropriations for the fund was part a broader effort to require agency leaders to defend their budget requests in committee hearings.

“We’ll continue to hold hearings and continue to have conversations with agency heads, senior leaders and budget directors about the use of their funds,” he said. “In some cases, we have made cuts already, and there will be others that have the be made in the future.”

The possible omission of fiscal 2019 appropriations places the TMF fund into a bit of a sticky wicket. It leaves only $55 million in fiscal 2018 to help jumpstart modernization efforts across the federal government, a stark figure when compared to the nearly $100 billion agencies spend on IT annually, much of which goes to maintaining legacy systems.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. — a co-sponsor of the MGT Act — touted the TMF as critical to helping safeguard the government’s information networks from cyberattack. But he also called on the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration, which helps administer TMF funds to agencies, to provide Congress with more details about the proposals they award.

“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’s task of keeping our nation’s critical IT infrastructure efficient and secure,” he said.

Moran also said that the agencies are continuing to work with the subcommittee on providing a more transparent view of the investments and their results.

There’s still hope for TMF funding. The bill now moves to conference with House officials, who support funding of the initiative, with the potential that some sort of compromise could be reached, adding money through an amendment to the conference bill.

-In this Story-

General Services Administration, James Lankford, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Suzette Kent, Technology Modernization Fund, Technology Modernization Fund Board
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