The General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are having problems with Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) fee collection and project cost estimations, according to a Dec. 12 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
In responses to the GAO report, leaders from both GSA and OMB pushed back on some of the watchdog agency’s findings, particularly on their context.
GAO audited the agencies from March 2019 through December 2019 as a part of biannual reports mandated by TMF. Auditors determined that GSA spent $1.2 million on TMF operating expenses but collected fewer offset fees than planned. No agency that was awarded TMF money paid fees for the grant during the first year of operation, according to GAO. OMB’s funding guidelines for the grant allow for payment of administrative fees one year after receiving an award, but GAO reported that a shift in funding timelines deferred repayment.
Additionally, cost savings estimates were not reliable because they failed to incorporate all cost estimating best practices. The estimates must be comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible to meet the standards, but GAO reported that officials did not fully adhere to GAO guidance and OMB Circular A-11 to substantially meet the criteria.
GAO’s recommendations to the agencies urged greater collaboration among agency leadership. The OMB director and GSA administrator should develop and implement a plan that outlines actions needed to fully recover TMF operation expenses with an administrative fee in a timely manner, it said. The two agencies should also clarify the TMF guidance requiring fund recipients to follow the cost estimating processes outlined in Circular A-11. Finally, the GSA administrator should develop a detailed guidance for completing the TMF cost estimate template to help ensure the accuracy and completeness of the documents.
“Unless OMB and the TMF Program Management Office take steps to develop a plan that outlines the actions needed to fully recover TMF operating expenses with administrative fee collection in a timely manner, there will be fewer funds available to award to projects that are intended to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government IT systems,” GAO warned in the report.
GSA, OMB Push Back
In response to the report, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy insisted that TMF is “operating as intended by Congress.” In a letter to GAO, she said that the agency partially concurred with the recommendations but criticized a lack of context on GSA’s success with TMF.
OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert said in a letter to GAO that the audit relies on “assumptions and recommendations that are, at best, misleading and paints an incomplete picture of the TMF.” Auditors asked GSA for information that OMB was more suited to answer, she explained, and this led to inaccurate conclusions by GAO.