Six Senate Democrats urged leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee to include a $1 billion Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) funding boost in the HEALS Act pandemic relief legislation introduced earlier this week.

The proposed $1 billion of TMF funding matches the request made by a group of House Democrats last week, and the $1 billion approved by the House in May in the HEROES Act pandemic relief legislation that found no traction in the Senate.

The HEALS Act – currently still in the negotiation process between House and Senate leaders – does not feature any TMF funding component currently, although it does provide new money for systems upgrades at Federal operations including the Internal Revenue Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TMF was created to finance IT modernization projects by Federal agencies, but its required repayment mechanisms have worked to tamp down demand for borrowings. The fund since 2018 has provided $116 million for ten agency modernization projects. The Trump administration has proposed $150 million for TMF in each of the past two fiscal years, but Congress has only appropriated $25 million in each of those years.

Learn more about flexible funding vehicles like TMF in this issue brief.

The six Democratic senators in their July 29 letter pointed to the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and its exposure of weaknesses in some Federal IT systems as justification for a big jump in IT modernization spending.

“The Federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy Federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks,” said Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Mark Warner, D-Va., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

“For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking Federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating,” the senators said.

“In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems. While some Federal agencies are to be commended for heroic efforts to address these challenges using small amounts of funding in the CARES Act, their individual successes highlight the scale of the remaining needs,” the senators said.

“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,” they said.

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