Federal agency CIOs agreed during a November 9 panel discussion at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation conference that the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) is a vital source of funding for IT modernization and cybersecurity projects, and said they want more of it from Congress.

Ann Dunkin, CIO at the Department of Energy (DoE), who has previously called for more funding in the TMF, again took the time to emphasize that current TMF funding is not enough to meet the needs of agencies.

“I don’t think there’s enough money in the TMF,” Dunkin said. “You know, $1 billion is sort of a down payment on what we need to do.”

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Earlier this year, the TMF received $1 billion of new funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. However, Federal CIO Clare Martorana revealed the demand is outweighing supply – the TMF Board received 108 proposals from Federal agencies totaling $2.1 billion of IT modernization projects competing for some of that $1 billion.

Nevertheless, some congressional backers of the TMF are not ready to give up on additional funding efforts. A new amendment to the Build Back Better Act crafted by House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and offered by Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., would add $250 million of TMF funding as part of a larger $500 million proposal to advance IT modernization programs. It remains unclear if the amendment will make it into the final legislation.

“I was pleased to hear that there might be some [TMF funding] inserted at the last minute in the infrastructure bill,” Dunkin said. “It’s going to be great to get all that money out to get projects going with about a third of the monies out now, I think give or take. So, that’ll be great, but we all have a lot more to do.”

Guy Cavallo, CIO at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said the TMF is a critical funding source for his agency, and he has “needed the TMF funding to put some of our modernization efforts on the table.”

“Within the OPM budget itself, I can’t touch the level of modernization that we need. So, outside funding like TMF is useful,” Cavallo said. “I’m hoping in our appropriations bill that we get to establish an IT working capital fund. I do not have that today. So, that means I have to live purely within the CIO budget each year and that’s a ‘keep the lights on’ budget with a very small amount of modernization. It would take a very long time to do it without these extra sources.”

“So, wherever I can, I’m looking for these additional sources,” he continued. “I’m not trying to do it as a big bang, you know, give me a gazillion dollars and we’ll modernize everything at OPM at once. We’re taking it in small chunks and being much more successful.”

Cavallo said his agency has six proposals before the TMF Board that he hopes will be “somewhat successful,” including one centered around zero trust and “the other five are all about modernizing legacy systems.”

OPM was successful in getting $9.8 million of new TMF funding earlier this year to help with zero trust security migration efforts.

For the Department of Labor, CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said his agency can utilize regular appropriations and an internal working capital fund for IT purposes, and turns to the TMF “as a comprehensive funding strategy for our modernization program.”

Ahluwalia said his agency has submitted three new proposals to the TMF, with one centered around the cybersecurity executive order’s (EO) needs.

Gary Washington, CIO at the Department of Agriculture, also said his agency “prioritized cybersecurity first in terms of the TMF,” and hopes to gain some funding to implement the requirements in the cyber EO.

“We, like most of the other departments, we have the same conundrum that the resources don’t match the velocity needs in the EO,” Ahluwalia explained. “We have all these things planned. But I think the EO actually is asking all of us to do these things sooner and do it with a more prescriptive or a more calibrated focus on individual items in it. We all know it. We just have to make it faster now.”

While Ahluwalia believes current resources do not match the speed of progress that the Biden administration is looking for, he hopes resources like the TMF can help agencies to meet their modernization needs.

“In my mind, we have to find some resources internally,” he added. “Ask Congress for appropriated resources, look at Technology Modernization Fund, and maybe certain things can be pulled together and done centrally to raise all boats.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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