IT officials from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) detailed progress their agencies have made so far in utilizing grants awarded by the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), and highlighted the benefits of TMF funding including the ability to repay the working capital fund through cost savings.

“Going through this process, from a people, process, and technology perspective, has injected a lot of energy into USDA and opened up the art of the possible,” said Gary Washington, CIO at USDA, during FCW’s Federal IT Acquisition Summit.

Washington detailed the two projects from USDA that have received TMF funding, and how they are progressing.

“Our first project was, and we have the first round of those funds, so we’ve started implementing that farmer-facing portal to automate the services we provide to farmers. We already had a working capital fund, so the whole process was as seamless as it could have been working with OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and GSA [General Services Administration]. Our second award was for cloud computing, and we’re in the process of working with GSA right now to receive those funds,” he said.

For HUD, the process to get the funds for the department’s migration away from a UNISYS mainframe computer went a little less smoothly, but the grant has still excited the department, as agency CTO Mark Hayes explained.

“So far, it’s going well. We just received the funding in the August-September timeline, because it took a while to get all the agreements in place. The appropriations attorneys were very interested in how does this fund work, so it took a lot of time and back-and-forth between GSA and the appropriations attorneys to determine if we’re booking payments without having a budget in place,” said Hayes.

After complications due to funds coming in at the end of the fiscal year, “we have our first award planned for this month,” he said. Hayes pointed to the good partnership between his office and the agency’s chief financial officer, and cited HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s sponsorship of the project as a key sign of leadership buy-in.

However, TMF does not equal free money. Both Washington and Hayes detailed how they planned to repay their grants over time.

“We will work with the mission area agencies on assuring that we are in a position to fulfill our commitment on that end, whether it be mission area agencies paying it back, or we use savings that are realized from management decisions that we make,” said Washington.

“You have a lot of flexibility when you lay out your plan of how you’re going to pay it back, so we set up small payments for those initial years, and as the savings actually come in, we start doing balloon payments so we can get the rest of it,” said Hayes.

Both of them offered their support for Congress to provide appropriations for the fund for FY19, and noted they would definitely use the fund again.

“I was really pleased with the process. Really, for this to be the first time going through this process, I thought they did an excellent job with it,” said Hayes.

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MeriTalk Staff