Think of the Tech Modernization Fund as seed money, GSA head says

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The $228 million Technology Modernization Fund proposed in the presidential budget request this week isn’t enough to dramatically overhaul federal investment in modernized technology, the interim head of the General Services Administration testified Wednesday, but he said it’s a start.

Asked during a hearing on his agency’s budget request for fiscal 2018 if the nearly quarter-billion-dollar fund is enough to move agencies forward on a path to modernization, Tim Horne, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, said, “It’s not enough.”

“The government spends $80 billion a year on IT and most of that investment is for maintenance on outdated systems,” Horne told the House Appropriations Committee. “So $228 million is a way to … start chipping away.”

Indeed, the fund – which would employ a review board of IT leaders to allocate funding to agencies on priority basis — would account for less than a quarter of a percentage point of the larger $95.7 billion federal IT budget request.

In last year’s budget request under President Barack Obama, GSA sought $3.1 billion for a similar centralized IT modernization fund.

The hope is, Horne explained, the money would serve as seed funding and “prove that the concept is the right idea, to have this board of technology experts chaired by the federal CIO making decisions about return on IT investments.”

“The TMF is an important step in the way the federal government manages its IT portfolio,” she said, later adding, “It’s a way to bring some governance across the government to how we invest in things.”

After some time, if the fund sees success as intended, it could become a “revolving fund over the years where we can continue to move the government to shared IT platforms, find ways to improve cybersecurity — improve this really difficult management challenge we face of this outdated IT system that’s very expensive to reinvest in,” Horne said.

The fund is meant to be competitive in nature, the Trump administration said in its budget request, and it “will provide strong incentives for agencies to develop comprehensive, high quality modernization plans.”

The fund is rooted in legislation — the Modernizing Government Technology Act by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas — currently making its way through the Senate after passing in the House last week. The Trump proposal, however, falls slightly short of the $250 million that Hurd’s bill would authorize for fiscal 2018.

“I’ve worked hard to earn broad bipartisan support in the House, Senate and Administration and I am grateful for the widespread recognition of the need to modernize our government systems,” Hurd said in a statement emailed to FedScoop earlier this week.

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budget, GSA, IT Modernization, IT Modernization Fund, Modernizing Government Technology Act, Rep. Will Hurd, tech modernization fund, Tim Horne
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