Senate Offers $0 for TMF. Now What?

After all the negotiations were said and done in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) ended up with zero dollars for fiscal year 2020 from the upper chamber of Congress. But the battle for funding TMF is far from over, with experts cautiously hopeful the final number will provide some funding for IT modernization.

To understand where TMF funding is heading, looking at past struggles over funding can be useful. In past years, the Trump Administration has been very supportive of funding TMF, the House has been relatively supportive, but the obstacle has been the Senate, which has been hesitant to fully fund the TMF in the past. When the House and Senate got together to negotiate TMF funding, they emerged at $100 million for fiscal year 2018. During the shutdown negotiation in February, Congress reached a compromise between the House’s $100 million and the Senate’s $0 at $25 million, a relatively low amount but still supporting IT modernization.

But FY20 threatens to drop the fund even lower. For fiscal year 2020, the House strayed further from the administration’s recommendation of $150 million, only allocating $35 million for the fund. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a champion of Federal IT legislation in the House, tried to boost the funding for the TMF to $50 million through an amendment to the funding bill, but the amendment ultimately did not make its way into the final language.

Meanwhile, the Senate dedicated one sentence in its bill report to its recommendation for funding the TMF.

“The Committee recommends $0 for the TMF.”

So where will a compromise between $35 million and $0 leave the TMF? Leaders and experts still see the funding as low, but are hopeful that the compromise will end up closer to the House’s $35 million.

“While [my] amendment did not get adopted in the House, I remain hopeful that appropriators in the House and Senate recognize the importance of the TMF and the savings that agencies could effectuate when they upgrade to modern IT systems,” Rep. Connolly told MeriTalk.

Conolly’s optimism comes as a positive signal for the TMF receiving some funding instead of none, and he is not alone in supporting more funding for the TMF. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, shared his support for the fund with a Senate Appropriations subcommittee during a September business meeting.

“I’m of the view … that this is an investment, not an expenditure,” he told fellow senators. “I am anxious to work with you in regards to this topic,” he added.

The caveated optimism also extends to Mike Hettinger, managing principal of Hettinger Strategy Group.

“I am hopeful the conference committee will do what it did last year and restore funding at least to the House level, recognizing that in the long term, more funding is going to be needed if TMF is going to drive IT modernization as the MGT Act intended,” he told MeriTalk.

With cautious optimism in place, all the federal IT community can do is wait for the House and Senate to come together and decide on their compromise – and prepare their modernization project applications for the new funds.

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