As Congress closes in on pushing through a historic funding increase for Federal IT modernization, former Federal IT officials gave the latest legislative advancement a warm welcome today and offered an early look at some types of projects that might benefit most from quick investments.

Those comments follow the Senate’s approval over the weekend of its version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. The Senate-approved measure will be considered by the House on Tuesday, and assuming no hitches emerge in that process, will move on to the White House for the President’s signature.

Among the Senate-approved tech-related provisions are $1 billion of funding for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), $2 billion for the Labor Department to help states improve unemployment systems, $650 million to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), $200 million for the U.S. Digital Service, and $150 million to the General Services Administration for a Federal Citizen Services fund.

TMF Bump Cheered

“The significant funding of TMF will accelerate agency progress on digital citizen services, legacy modernization, cybersecurity, data initiatives and multi-agency collaboration across many areas,” former Federal CIO Suzette Kent told MeriTalk. “This is a win for all citizens and all Federal government,” added Kent, who was the government’s top IT official from early 2018 through the middle of last year.

“I’m pleasantly surprised to see the $1 billion of TMF funding in the bill,” agreed Tony Scott, who preceded Kent as Federal CIO from 2015 to 2017, and now runs his own consulting firm and is an advisor to Squire Patton Boggs. “While that’s far short of the amount needed, it will help accelerate badly needed upgrades and replacements of legacy systems in the Federal government,” he said.

No Shortage of Projects

Asked about the types of projects that would be ripe for near-term TMF investment, Kent highlighted several that tie into COVID-19 relief – the underlying basis for the American Rescue Act. Among those are:

  • Accelerating digital citizen services, and making those processes more efficient;
  • Adding integrated and interoperable collaboration tools across Federal agencies;
  • Adopting tools to strengthen cybersecurity and identity protocols, and accelerating CISA’s shared services offerings;
  • Improving digital onboarding and retirement tech for Federal employees and contractors;
  • Adopting more remote work tools;
  • Accelerating shared services for payroll functions that include enhancements for remote work;
  • Adopting data sharing tools, platforms, and processes across Federal agencies;
  • Working on data transparency tools and processes with the private sector;
  • Accelerating other government-wide services including grants and financial management; and
  • Overhauling Federal agency continuity of operations plans.

‘Tremendous’ Boost

Matthew Cornelius, who is executive director at the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI) and was a senior technology and cybersecurity advisor at the Office of Management Budget from 2017 to 2019 with a stint at GSA before that, pointed to the magnitude of the TMF funding increase, and what might be accomplished with that kind of financial muscle.

The billion-dollar increase, he said, is 10 times the fund’s original size when it was created three years ago, and 40 times the $25 million of annual appropriations it has received in each of the past two years through regular appropriations. “The sheer magnitude of that number is tremendous,” he said.

On the first-projects front, Cornelius suggested that the TMF Board and GSA collect as much information as they can about common challenges that Federal agencies have been facing over the past year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – along with use cases generated by private sector partners that have been helping the government with telework and other technologies through the public health crisis – “and then immediately make investments to accelerate those.”

“Some things that I think stick out are collaboration tools … and making sure that multiple agencies can communicate and share information and data effectively,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of investment that needs to be made in modernized telework and hybrid work capabilities because there’s still going to be lots of agencies who staff are not going to come back to the office.”

Citizen-Impact, Cyber Priorities

Mike Hettinger, president and founding principal at Hettinger Strategy Group, said he welcomed the $1 billion of funding, noting that the TMF “has been historically underfunded and as a result, it has not been able to have the impact many of us had hoped.”

“This program is critical to helping drive IT modernization across government and the $1 billion will really help jumpstart our investment in innovative Federal IT,” he said.

As for good early-wave projects, Hettinger said that “agencies should look to prioritize those projects that can have the most immediate impact on citizen experience and cybersecurity.” He continued, “If we have learned one thing from the last year it’s that remote work is here to stay, and ensuring government can continue to deliver its mission from anywhere and do so securely, is critical.”

Separately, Jason Oxman, president at the International Technology Industry Council, also hailed the Senate vote. Digital technology will be essential to ensuring that the U.S. is more resilient as it recovers from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact,” he said.

“The American Rescue Plan emphasizes the importance of modernizing federal information technology and bolstering governments’ cybersecurity,” Oxman said. “These investments in technology infrastructure and tools are an important down payment on helping to deliver modern and secure citizen services and critical networks.”

Read More About
More Topics
John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.