gov tech

What the Omnibus Spending Bill Means for Gov Tech

With a reluctant signature from President Trump on Friday, the federal government averted yet another shutdown threat. The $1.3 billion omnibus spending bill weighed in at a whopping 2,232 pages, which means there’s a lot to unpack.

Here at GovLoop, we’re chiefly concerned with what the bill means for key technology initiatives, including the Technology Modernization Fund, created by last year’s Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act. The act authorized up to $250 million in appropriations for the TMF for each of the fiscal years 2018 and 2019, per the implementation memo issued in February. And the Trump administration requested $228 million and $210 million for those years, respectively.

The new spending bill, however, chops those figures in half, providing $100 million to the TMF through Sept. 30.

Fortunately for the larger agencies looking to modernize, the TMF is just one of the MGT Act’s provisions. It also allows Chief Financial Officers Act agencies to establish IT working capital funds, where unspent money from other accounts can be used for modernization efforts.

Speaking at a House subcommittee hearing this month, the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert said there will be more details to come this summer on the agency working capital funds. Some challenges exist with transfer authority, so the administration will need help from Congress to streamline those efforts.

During that hearing, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said Congress will do all it can to ensure the working capital funds are in place by the end of the fiscal year. He added that establishing these funds shows a culture of modernization.

Those looking to tap into the TMF, on the other hand, must apply to the seven-member Technology Modernization Fund Board. The board will review specific projects for financial, technical and operation criteria.

“Successful projects will demonstrate a strong execution strategy, technical approach, and have a strong team with a demonstrated history of successful modernization efforts,” the MGT Act implementation memo stated.

The spending bill did fund other tech-related areas more generously. For example, it granted $89.2 billion for Defense Department research and development — a $16 billion (or 22 percent) increase from 2017. That was $6.5 billion more than the agency’s budget request for technology R&D this year.

Additionally, the Center for Disease Control landed $480 million to build a new biodefense research lab, the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate will get $510 million to last through the end of fiscal 2020, and Customs and Border Protection will receive $360 million for aircraft, sensors and surveillance technology.

Those are just a few of the agencies whose tech development efforts will benefit from the bill. Others aren’t so lucky.

While the Environmental Protection Agency’s science and technology R&D fund stayed steady at $714 million, the legislation froze the overall budget at $8.1 billion and included amendments “to rein in harmful and unnecessary regulations.”

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