The proposal is part of a draft supplemental funding bill published Monday night in the House that would funnel $2.5 trillion to emergency response efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation differs from the package that Senate Democrats and Trump administration officials have been negotiating this week, but it’s possible the House proposal could influence that measure.
Under the House bill, agencies could apply for funds to use through fiscal 2022 specifically for “technology-related modernization activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” If any of the money isn’t used by the end of September 2022, it would expire.
A Democratic aide to the House Appropriations Committee told FedScoop the money “would be used for technology-related modernization projects designed to cut costs and drive efficiencies across the Federal government, which is particularly relevant as more federal workers are working remotely because of the pandemic.”
The fund isn’t the only way agencies will get additional IT money during the pandemic, as they scale to face the difficulties of mobilizing their workforces to telework. Many agencies have requested funding to support their emergency IT as they have moved to a state of “maximum teleworking” during the novel coronavirus pandemic. And in this bill, appropriators look willing to meet agencies’ needs.
The money put into the TMF differs from those agency-specific appropriations in that “the board will prioritize projects that digitize federal actions and promote telework efficiencies,” the aide said. “Agencies always have the option to use their own money but the TMF allows them to invest in actions that have a longer horizon/[return on investment].”
Historically, the TMF board has awarded projects smaller amounts of money, less than $25 million. Agencies are then required to repay that money within five years. Thus far the TMF has awarded a total of $90 million to seven distinct projects— two at both the U.S. Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, and one apiece at the departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor.
The TMF has struggled since its creation to resonate with lawmakers, who have funded it well short of the requests from the White House. The executive branch requested $150 million for the TMF in fiscal 2020 but ended up getting just $25 million. In fiscal 2019 the Trump administration requested $228 million and got $25 million. The White House requested $220 million for fiscal 2018, the fund’s inaugural year, and ended up with $100 million.
The Office of Management and Budget asked last month for $150 million for the fund in fiscal 2021.