$1B boost to TMF draws support from Senate Democrats

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. (April Brady / Project on Middle East Democracy)

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A group of Senate Democrats is the latest to appeal for a major boost Technology Modernization Fund appropriations to help agencies modernize antiquated tech that’s stuck out like a sore thumb during the pandemic.

Led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the group of six senators penned a letter to Appropriations Committee leaders asking for $1 billion in TMF funding in the forthcoming coronavirus relief package, currently being negotiated on Capitol Hill. Some prominent Republicans have been skeptical of the fund, and its annual appropriation is $150 million for fiscal 2020.

The TMF was created as a central pot of appropriations that agencies can apply for to fund impactful modernization projects under the stipulation that they’ll pay it back within five years. The letter cites the TMF as a lever federal agencies can use to have a quick and meaningful impact in modernizing systems that need it the most.

“The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks,” says the letter, also signed by Virginia’s Mark Warner, California’s Dianne Feinstein, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and New Jersey’s Corey Booker.

It continues: “Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria. We should provide a major funding allocation to the TMF now for projects that will provide the bandwidth, security, and functionality needed to make teleworking federal workers just as productive at home as in the office, and for other urgent COVID-19 response needs such as scaling claims processing systems, improving the security of citizen information, enhancing fraud prevention, and addressing long-delayed and well documented enterprise legacy IT systems modernizations.”

It comes a week after House Democrats issued a similar letter to their chamber’s leadership. The House has been the far more bullish of the two chambers about injecting more than $1 billion into the TMF. It included $1 billion for the TMF in its HEROES Act, passed in May, and fell short in proposing $3 billion for the fund in its original coronavirus relief deal back in March.

“As you are aware, the HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, included $1 billion for the TMF, to remain available until the end of Fiscal Year 2022,” says the Senate letter. “We urge you to include the same level of funding for TMF in the next COVID-19 supplemental spending bill to help address technology and related risks identified during the ongoing COVID-19 response.”

Democrats and Republicans have struggled to see eye-to-eye on the relief bill as the week comes to a close. In particular, they can’t come to an agreement on the level at which to fund weekly unemployment benefits, which otherwise expire Friday.

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Bob Casey, Chris Van Hollen, coronavirus, Cory Booker, COVID-19, Dianne Feinstein, IT Modernization, Mark Warner, Ron Wyden, Senate, Technology Modernization Fund
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