Eyes tend to glaze over at an Appropriations hearing. Seems Congress just pushed through the 2018 Omnibus spending bill, and the House is already back talking budgets for FY19.

The General Services Administration (GSA) holds the checkbook for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) agencies will soon use to fund IT savings initiatives. As custodian of those funds, GSA had the unenviable task of holding its hat out to Appropriations on Tuesday.

Following the $100 million provided in the Omnibus for TMF’s initial year, Emily Murphy, head of GSA, came before Congress to substantiate the agency’s $210 million request for next year. She also shared pivotal updates on how TMF’s selection process is going.

The TMF Board, which will determine which agencies win funding, just got a boost to its oversight team.

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“We’ve appointed an executive director who’s going to help coordinate the technical reviews of those proposals as well as the fiscal and business reviews,” Murphy said. Elizabeth Cain, previously a financial management analyst at GSA, assumed the new role on Monday.

Murphy also provided key updates on how reviews are progressing.

“They’re in the process right now of reviewing the second round of business cases,” Murphy said. “The board is meeting once a week now and is reviewing all of the plans that agencies have submitted.”

We got news from Murphy that the TMF board has refined their selection criteria. She outlined key prerogatives that will determine the projects chosen: cross-agency application, return on investment, cybersecurity, and improved citizen services.

“They’re looking at technologies that can be leveraged across agencies, so it’s not just a one-time fix, it’s something we get long-term return out of,” Murphy said. She gave the example of how manual processes are still bogging down agencies.

“There are simple low-dollar-value approaches we can work on there,” Murphy said. “I can use my contract specialists to be working on higher value-add, better interaction with citizens, better service to other agencies, rather than doing paperwork and data entry.”

With the amount of publicity TMF has received, and as a major component of the President’s Management Agenda, the funding request seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the annual $90 billion Federal IT spend. Murphy was asked by appropriators if $210 million is enough. She thinks it might be, because this isn’t a full-fledged innovation vehicle just yet.

“This is a proof of concept.” Murphy said. “It’s a revolving fund. It allows us to make targeted investments, get the return on those dollars, re-invest them into the next set of projects, and have this as a continual improvement process.”

On Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had its own budget requests heard. Federal CIO Suzette Kent is the OMB representative and head of the TMF board. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney named the board’s members. Their vested interest is clear, and so is their desire to move funding along.

“We have a competitive process where we’ll pick programs that we think might actually work,” Mulvaney said at the budget hearing. “We think it’s one of the most innovative programs we have come up with together – the administration and Congress.”

And together, they’ll need to see that funding through yet another harrowing year of budget debate. Support for the funding seems strong. It’ll pay to keep your eyes open for this one.

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Joe Franco
Joe Franco
Joe Franco is a Program Manager, covering IT modernization, cyber, and government IT policy for MeriTalk.com.