Proposals with great citizen impact, quick routes to success and repayment, and concise explanations of how to achieve their goals are likely to win the remaining dollars in the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), according to representatives from the General Services Administration (GSA) speaking at a workshop held June 8.
The TMF is the central fund supporting IT modernization authorized by the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act. The TMF board on June 7 announced that three winners had received $45 million of the $100 million prize pool. The next day, GSA–the custodian of the funds–hosted a webinar to discuss how agencies can win a piece of the remaining $55 million.
Alan Thomas, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service and a member of the TMF board, said agencies need to be very explicit in their proposals.
“Get to the point quickly,” Thomas said. “If you think you have three or four really impactful sentences that talk about outcomes, that should be right up front.”
“One thing I hope to emphasize in this workshop today is that your initial project proposal needs to really sell your project in a way that intrigues the board, gets them interested, and outlines enough of your approach that they feel like you know what you’re talking about,” said TMF Executive Director Elizabeth Cain.
She said there will be further avenues to get into the technical details, but the initial proposal must emphasize the broader picture first. With that in mind, Cain broke down the elements of the TMF proposal–five simple sections–and outlined how agencies can put their best foot forward and move on to the later rounds. Here’s your guide to nailing the pitch.
Section 1–Describe how the project fulfills your Agency’s mission, identify the problem this project solves and how successful execution of this project solves the problem.
“What I would recommend teams think about in this section is really talking about the current state and the future state,” Cain said. “Focusing on where your agency has this struggle right now or this opportunity to improve and what the world will look like after you complete that project.”
Cain recommended bringing the citizen-facing elements to the foreground in the first section and articulating how the project creates citizen impact. That may be easier to explain for a customer portal than a cloud email migration, Cain said, but tying any proposal to the eventual outcome for citizens will lead to better potential success for agency proposals.
Section 2–Provide an estimation of the TMF funding request and the method used for cost estimation. If less than the estimated total project cost, also state the estimated total project cost and how you intend to repay the TMF.
“Give a good overview, but you don’t have to have every question answered,” Cain said. “You don’t have to go in-depth, just ensure that everyone knows that you know what you’re planning to spend the money on, you know about how much you need, and you have a plan to pay it back.”
Cain said the default reimbursement method is offsets in agency budgets but noted that there is flexibility to create a plan with different parts of the agency other than IT contributing to reimbursement.
She also described the repayment schedule: the first payment is due one year from the first transfer of TMF funds, and the final payment is due five years following the final transfer. Agencies won’t be blindsided with a due date on a large lump sum, she said.
Section 3–Describe the key metrics for success and your suggested initial milestones for implementation, including the deliverables, anticipated completion dates, and other criteria through which you will demonstrate that your intended milestones were met.
“The board is particularly interested in projects that can deliver part of their project within the first year,” Cain said. “I would be thinking about that as I wrote my project plan: ‘What could I show the board that I could deliver in the first year as part of this project plan schedule?’”
This section of the proposal calls upon agencies to use agile development methodologies to segment their approach to success in projects. Cain said agencies can use the proposal to identify one increment in a larger initiative, and request funding for that specific increment of the initiative.
“If you’re able to get funding for increment one of your longer-term project, you also have the option of coming back and trying to get some funding for increment two or three, and so I think that would be a really great way to tell the board the story of your longer-term project plan to modernize your technology, as well as your tactical solution for a particular problem today.”
Section 4–Describe why the project will succeed, citing examples such as (1) executive level support for this effort, (2) the strength or experience of the team, including any agency digital service experts, other agency development resources, the availability of contractor support, etc., (3) the preparedness to begin executing this project, and/or (4) other relevant factors that will demonstrate the likelihood of project success.
“Include your high-level agency support for the effort,” Cain said. “In addition, you could talk about the strength of your team, including any agency digital experts, acquisition experts, or ongoing projects that you have right now.”
“This would be a great place to share if you have a pilot project either completed or in the works or if you have a Minimum Viable Product already developed,” Cain added. She said that articulating how the solution will be adopted is also important.
“If this is a citizen-facing platform, what change management strategies are you implementing to increase adoption?” she said. “What testing are you going to be able to do to ensure that your platform is performing in the way that you want?”
Section 5–Describe why the Technology Modernization Fund makes sense for this project and how the approach you are taking for this effort is different than what you have previously attempted.
“This is where you would tell the board why the TMF is the right solution,” Cain said. “It’s a really important way to show the board that you’ve thought through all the options you have and selected the best one for your project.”
Cain said agencies can shine here by articulating how the project aligns with the TMF’s goals–citizen services, quick wins, broad usability and cross-functionality across government–and also describing why this particular funding method makes most sense for the project.
Back to the TMF Board member for some closing thoughts on the in-person presentations that agencies will make to the board if they succeed in following all of these guidelines and their proposals are selected.
Thomas said the Department of Energy–one of the three initial winners–was able to shine using a somewhat novel approach.