Democrats want more taxpayer cash for tech fund that has more than $750 million unspent

Democrats want more taxpayer cash for tech fund that has more than $750 million unspent

Democrats want to add more taxpayer dollars to a fund for modernizing the federal government’s technology systems despite more than $750 million still unspent in the fund. 

The Technology Modernization Fund got a billion-dollar boost in COVID-19 relief spending last year, and a House Oversight panel said Wednesday that there is still $756 million in the fund.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said before the fund was established in 2017, however, Democrats working with the Obama administration in 2016 envisioned it should have at least $3 billion. The Maryland Democrat said his colleagues are now eager to ship more taxpayer dollars it’s way.

“That may sound like a lot of money, $3 billion, and it is. By the way, the Biden administration in its first budget to the Congress asked for $9 billion, which would have been the kind of trust fund that you would have needed that could revolve and be replenished,” Mr. Hoyer said at a hearing of the Oversight Committee’s government operations panel. “For context though, the federal government has estimated to spend roughly 90 billion dollars per year on technology.”

Mr. Biden proposed to give the $9 billion sum to the fund in COVID-19 relief last year and he asked for $300 million for the fund in his fiscal year 2023 budget proposal. Outside of the $1 billion that the fund ultimately received in COVID relief last year, the fund has collected $175 million total from the regular budgetary process since 2017.  

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who leads the government operations subcommittee, said he wants to “streamline” the funding application process to hasten the government’s spending from the fund. 

“I’m proud to have played a part in securing a revolutionary $1 billion investment in the TMF through the American Rescue Plan in March of last year; I also support President Biden’s 2023 budget request for an additional $300 million,” Mr. Connolly said. “These investments will not be enough over time, given the heavy demand that we face.”

The fund is overseen by a Technology Modernization Board of seven government officials, and four alternate officials, who review government proposals for access to the cash, according to the fund’s website. 

The fund lists 22 projects online that it has invested in since its inception, but the House Oversight and Reform Committee said the fund is facing 130 proposals from 60 agencies seeking more than $2.5 billion. 

While Democrats cited federal agencies’ demands for taxpayer cash as a reason to spend more, Republicans doubted that the fund was being utilized entirely as Congress planned.  

Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, expressed concern that the tech fund is not collecting cash in the manner lawmakers intended.  

“In concept, the TMF was set up to be an efficient cycle — it would fund projects to retire aging systems which are expensive to operate and maintain, and then the savings realized by those agencies by retiring those systems would be used to reimburse the TMF and allow for additional IT modernization projects — but that does not seem to be happening,” Mr. Biggs said at the hearing. “A small number of project awards have been made and of those, it is unclear whether any have documented savings at all.” 

Mr. Biggs said whether the fund is focused on retiring old systems is not clear and recent project awards suggest the fund is instead fixated on things such as customer experiences and cybersecurity. He said the different focus indicates the fund diverting from the cost-saving approach intended under federal law. 

Mr. Hoyer said he did not think raising government spending for the fund needed to be a partisan issue. 

“I hope this subcommittee will continue to shine a light and keep a watchful eye on the critical work of the fund and join the chorus of voices urging an increase in its capitalization in fiscal year 2023 and beyond,” Mr. Hoyer said. “This is not a partisan issue.”