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Senate Democrats make case for adding $1B to Technology Modernization Fund

Pressure to add more money to the Technology Modernization Fund is mounting. A few days after a letter from House lawmakers, six senators wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders asking them to match the House request of $1 billion for the governmentwide account.

“The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks,” stated the letter, which was spearheaded by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggled 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. 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.”

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, (Senate Television via AP)

This is the first time Senators have pushed for additional TMF funding in the stimulus bills.

House lawmakers, led by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and others, offered up $3 billion in an initial version of the first stimulus bill, and then $1 billion in subsequent pandemic relief legislation.

The fact that Senators are paying more attention to these IT management issues gives some hope for a possible breakthrough. Former Federal Chief Information Officers Suzette Kent and Tony Scott said in July that challenges brought on by the pandemic drew much needed attention to the need for agencies to move off legacy systems more quickly.

The Senators’ letter highlights that specific focus of the TMF.

“Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria,” the lawmakers wrote. “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.”

The letter also comes as the Senate begins consideration of the fourth pandemic relief bill. The initial version didn’t include any extra funding for the TMF.

The Senators also are making their case for more money just as the House is writing its version of the stimulus bill.

Connolly, Maloney and others wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders last week asking to include $1 billion for the TMF in the legislation.

The Trump administration asked for $125 million for the TMF in the fiscal 2021 budget request. House lawmakers allocated only $25 million.