May 14 2020

How USDA and Energy Are Modernizing via the TMF

Two of the earliest recipients of Technology Modernization Fund money are still working through their upgrades.

Some of the earliest recent pioneers of IT modernization are making progress on their IT upgrades. In recent years, agencies including the Agriculture and Energy departments have been in the midst of technology modernization projects. However, some of them are taking a bit longer than expected and have changed in scope. 

The 2018 Modernizing Government Technology Act established a Technology Modernization Fund to fund agency requests for IT modernization projects. 

Congress appropriated an initial $100 million for the TMF in fiscal year 2018 (compared with a $220 million White House request). In fiscal 2019 the administration requested $228 million and got $25 million, and the executive branch requested $150 million for fiscal 2020, but ended up receiving just another $25 million.

As FedTech reports, the TMC “essentially serves as a loan fund, with the expectation that the improvements will save money that agencies can use to pay back the government over a designated period of time. It allows agencies to replace and update old legacy systems that are expensive to maintain but require significant investment to improve.”

The Energy Department and the Department of Agriculture each received funding from the TMF in June 2018 in the first round of awards and have been pursuing their modernization projects ever since. 

How the Energy Department Modernizes Email Systems

The Energy Department received $6 million from the fund to move its enterprise email systems to the cloud. 

Energy had shifted 19 of its on-premises email systems to the offsite servers of the cloud before receiving the TMF funding. TMF money allows it to accelerate the conversion of 26 remaining email operations.

The agency experienced the benefits of the cloud with the earlier move of its headquarters email system. Each independent email operation needs hardware refreshes, third-party software license updates and security fixes — plus its own data center hosting, former Energy Department CIO Max Everett says. “Those costs all started to drop once we made the move over,” he tells FedTech.

As a December 2019 Government Accountability Office report notes, however, the original plan was to migrate about 47,000 mailboxes to cloud services by 2021. “The scope of the project was updated in February 2019,” the report notes. “The project now intends to migrate approximately 23,000 mailboxes to cloud services by July 2020.” 

MORE FROM FEDTECH: See how agencies can leave legacy IT systems behind. 

USDA Moves to Upgrade Websites, Infrastructure

At the USDA, the TMF funding helped it accelerate a plan to consolidate two divisions of the agency’s Farm Production and Conservation mission area. 

The project brings together the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service to share information, streamline operations and get information to farmers faster and more easily to help them implement better practices. 

The Agriculture Department was awarded $10 million to update and modernize the farmers.gov website for those mission areas in order to improve the services through the portal by December 2020, according to the GAO report. The two subagencies provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers through related conservation programs. 

“While separately authorized and appropriated, the programs share common customers and also share interconnected systems,” the GAO report notes. “The project is intended to work to reengineer related financial assistance business processes at these agencies and update the agencies’ legacy systems so that the systems can be properly connected with the department’s common financial system.”

Separately, in October 2018, the USDA was awarded $5 million for IT infrastructure modernization, and the agency originally intended to migrate 10 applications to a shared services cloud platform by the end of 2019. 

However, the scope of the project was updated in June 2019, the GAO notes. “The project now intends to migrate one application” — the Farm Production and Conservation’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program — “to the cloud but has not yet determined when the project will be completed,” the report says. 

“The program helps landowners, operators, and individuals to implement emergency measures after a natural disaster in order to help relieve imminent hazards to their life or property,” the GAO notes of the program being moved to the cloud.

The USDA “originally intended to repay the TMF awarded funds by using the planned cost savings and avoidances accrued from not having to pay the costs for the maintenance of these 10 applications,” the GAO notes.

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