The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is making bids with the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) for funding that will help the agency improve cybersecurity and replace legacy systems that run high-value assets, said Sheena Burrell, NARA’s Deputy CIO, at a GovLoop event on August 19.

Burrell – who is an alternate member of the TMF Board that is currently sifting through agency proposals to obtain more than $1 billion that the board is trying to distribute – talked about NARA’s own requests for TMF funding, but also more generally about the process that agencies need to embrace to make their own bids for funding.

“My agency is already putting in their proposals, and gathering data in order for us to make use of the TMF,” she said. “I think it is great, and I hope other agencies make use of the TMF over the course of the next couple of months.”

Targeting Legacy, Cyber Improvements

“We’re going to try to use the TMF in two ways,” Burrell said. “The first way is we have a very old legacy system that’s built on Siebel – I bet you have a few people that haven’t even heard of that – it’s a platform which is really kind of like your standard customer relationship management tool.”

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“There are some great ones out there that are a more modern, current, agile kind of platforms, and we want to take advantage of those,” Burrell said of replacing the current legacy system.

“That actual system that we build those on are our high-value assets, so those are critical to our agency,” she said. “We are trying to put in a TMF proposal to modernize our two high-value assets to a different platform to get off of the Siebel platform.”

“But also we are looking at the TMF – a lot of people right now are trying to respond to the [White House] executive order for the cybersecurity mandate – and we are too, so we are looking at the TMF for our zero trust architecture and modernize our security architecture.”

The main thrust of NARA’s current efforts, she said, is to “try to modernize and get off of old legacy systems, and take this onto a different platform that will allow us to be more agile, that doesn’t have custom code.”

“One, it’s expensive to maintain, but two, you have to actually find people that know and understand how to rebuild it for you if it breaks or you need something new,” Burrell said. “So we want to get off of that old type of legacy systems and move to something that’s a little bit more robust.”

Process Advice

Asked how Federal agencies can engage with the TMF process, Burrell advised them to contact the TMF Program Management Office (PMO), which she said is “really set up to support agencies through this process,” including working up initial project proposals (IPP) and then subsequent full project proposals (FPP).

The latter FPP stage of the process, she said, is “really the meat and potatoes … where you’re building out your business case” and giving the TMF board detailed information about costs, benefits, and return on investment. “The PMO office will help agencies through all stages of the process,” she said.

Burrell said the TMF Board’s decision to potentially waive repayment provisions is helping to drive agency demand for the $1 billion that the fund received from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act earlier this year. Federal CIO Clare Martorana told members of Congress last month that the fund had received bids from agencies totaling $2.1 billion under a solicitation launched in May.

Awards Timing

Asked to predict the timeline for TMF funding awards, Burrell declined to name a specific date but indicated that the TMF Board wants to move as quickly as it can.

“With the ARP funding, we are trying to move out pretty fast,” she said, adding that “a lot of agencies” filed proposals with the TMF board by an initial June 2 deadline to get in a priority queue of projects.

“We have already done, and are looking at so many proposals, and we’re moving forward, so the IPPs are moving, and it’s definitely more like weeks than months in terms of that process,” she said.

“We are moving as fast as we can, we are trying to expedite a lot of these proposals for the ARP funding,” Burrell said. “This funding was for COVID, and we’re still in a pandemic situation, and so we want to make sure that we’re expediting all these requests that are coming in as soon as possible.”

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