IT Modernization

GAO frets about TMF payback, fees

tech budget (Sergey Nivens/ 

The Technology Modernization Fund -- the $125 million pool of no-year money appropriated to fast-track technology upgrades -- has some potential operational problems, according to an oversight report.

The biggest issues, according to a Dec. 12 report from the Government Accountability Office, have to do with the accuracy of cost-savings projections and the collection of program management fees from user agencies.

According to the report, the shortfall in program management fees has a few causes: the re-scoping of some of the projects funded under TMF and the lower-than-anticipated appropriations to the fund.

At current funding levels, the program management office (PMO) is expected to collect $1.2 million over the life of the fund -- through 2025. That figure is based on the $37.65 million transferred out of TMF accounts to participants through the end of August 2019. However, GAO found that so far fee payments of just over $33,000 have been collected.

"Such factors raise doubts on whether [the General Services Administration] will be able to fully recover future operating expenses," the report stated.

The executive director for the PMO told auditors that the TMF extended lower rates to speed up the cycle of repayments and forward funding, thus enabling more awards and more opportunities for fee collection.

In reply comments, Margaret Weichert, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, said that the PMO is a small two-person office that required less than $1 million annually to function.

Weichert stated in a footnote to her comments that the author of the GAO report personally advised a congressional committee that the best way to keep TMF solvent and performing would be for appropriators to fully fund TMF at the $438 million level allowed in authorizing legislation. Further, Weichert noted that GAO spent more time interviewing GSA staffers than those at OMB, who would have more direct knowledge of the management of the fund.

Thee draft report unfortunately contains many key assumptions and recommendations that are, at best, misleading, and paints an incomplete picture of the TMF," Weichert stated.

Emily Murphy, admininistrator of the General Services Administration, pointed out that agencies repaid more than $1.1 million to the fund including fees, "despite substantial headwinds" including the government shutdown last winter and the fact that Congress appropriated far less than the authorized maximum for the fund in 2019.

The report comes as Congress preps to release an appropriations package for fiscal year 2020, which is expected to come up for a vote next week. When Congress was still pushing toward passing funding bills on time, the TMF was zeroed out in a bill that was voted out of the Senate committee. The House approved a $35 million boost for the fund. It remains to be seen whether Congress will add more dollars to TMF.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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