Hurd, White House push for MGT funding

The Senate zeroed out funding for the Modernizing Government Technology Act for FY 2019, and House supporters and the White House are hoping to get the money back on the table.

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The lead sponsor of the Modernizing Government Technology Act expressed confidence that congressional appropriators will eventually replenish a revolving fund for IT modernization, but unresolved issues regarding transparency need to be addressed.

Senate appropriators zeroed out a line item contained in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending package. The House General Government appropriation bill pays into the Technology Modernization Fund to the tune of $150 million -- the same funding level passed for 2018.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), the author of the MGT Act, told FCW that he is talking to Senate counterparts and said that "in conference we can probably resolve this issue."

However, he indicated that there was dissatisfaction among members of Congress that the Office of Management and Budget has not done enough to keep them and the public in the loop when it comes to how the money is doled out.

"Unfortunately, this situation could have been avoided because OMB was not transparent in how decisions [were being made] with the awards,” said Hurd after a July 25 cybersecurity hearing. "That frustrated our appropriators and rightfully so."

Hurd's comments track with what Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees TMF funding, told FCW in a July 12 email.

"I am concerned about the lack of transparency with the allocation of the awards, and who is submitting proposals and why certain projects and agencies were or were not selected. In the coming weeks, I hope to explore possible solutions to this lack of transparency," Lankford said.

In a July 9 letter to appropriators, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney sought to restore the TMF funding.

Mulvaney warned that the funding lapse would "halt the Technology Modernization Board's ongoing work to tackle impactful, government-wide IT modernization efforts. The administration believes that any additional funding would be well utilized and will continue working with the Congress to demonstrate the taxpayer value generated by the TMF.

OMB announced the first round of TMF funding in June, awarding a combined $45 million to the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development. However, just seven federal agencies wound up submitting proposals to the TMF, and some officials fretted over the five-year repayment timeline or the lack of in-house working capital funds to complement award funding.

Lawmakers and the public know little about how the board operates, how it prioritizes projects and how it deals with the potential for conflict of interest when members evaluate a project from their own agency.

Hurd indicated that OMB could use existing authorities to offer additional transparency.

"It's a situation that doesn’t necessarily need legislation, but it needs processes clearly outlined for how those decisions are being made," Hurd said.

Another $55 million in TMF funds from this year have yet to be awarded, and OMB has put out a call for another round of agency proposals. Hurd said he is working to make sure those aren't the last dollars to flow into the program.

"Ultimately, I believe appropriators recognize the importance of this fund, and they were making sure that the administration was being held accountable for how the decisions of the use of those funds are being made," said Hurd.

A spokesperson for Federal CIO Suzette Kent, the chair of the TMF board, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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