The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) is proving to be a vital source of immediate funding for pressing projects at the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM), with CIO Guy Cavallo saying the agency would have to wait years to complete vital upgrades if it relied solely on regular appropriations.

Case in point: earlier this year, OPM snagged $9.8 million of TMF funding to help with zero trust security migration efforts – one of four major modernization areas that the TMF board is prioritizing as it looks to distribute the $1 billion of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act.

At MeriTalk’s TMF Forward  virtual event on Dec. 16, Cavallo talked about that funding award, and why TMF is a game-changer for OPM.

“I can’t wait to go back to the Hill and ask for additional appropriations in FY2024 if I need to do something now,” Cavallo explained. “So to me, it’s that in-between period that the TMF funding allows an agency to take on a modernization task now, versus if they go through traditional appropriations, you’re gonna have to wait a couple of appropriation cycles before that money even shows up. So, I think it’s the best of all worlds.”

Cavallo already built experience moving toward zero trust security before the COVID-19 pandemic when he was deputy CIO at the Small Business Administration, so when he made the switch to OPM he knew he had to do the same thing.

President Biden’s sweeping cybersecurity executive order that requires agencies to move to zero trust was a bonus for Cavallo, who had already planned on making the switch.

“I love it when we get a mandate, an executive order, on a path that I already want to go on,” Cavallo said. “That now gives me the leverage to go that way. We didn’t have any resistance, but it’s like we have to do this. We can take a long time to do this or we can go faster.”

“If we have to do it with our own funding, this could take me three or four years. Let’s apply for [TMF] funding now and get this knocked out in the next 18 months,” he added.

Although the TMF Board awarded OPM funding for its zero trust migration effort, Cavallo noted that the board is “not just giving the money out willy-nilly.”

“We got lots of questions over our zero trust proposal,” he said in explaining the process for applying for TMF funding.

“We had to outline the number of resources we’re going to put on it, how they’re going to be covered, how we’re going to sustain this in the future – which is all really just best practices on any modernization project,” he said. “You don’t want to modernize something if you can’t afford to pay for it after you’re done. And so you have to show how by turning off legacy things, you then got to recover funding to be able to pay for that.”

Cavallo said his agency met with the TMF Board during its proposal process, which allowed the board to give OPM “some suggestions on how to rephrase some of what we’re looking at before we got approved. That definitely helped in the approval.”

Going forward, Cavallo also recommended agencies get on top of deadlines if the TMF Board provides additional funding and dates for next year.

“My recommendation to other agencies is: make sure you get yours in that timeframe,” Cavallo said. “Don’t come in asking for $100 million after a deadline has passed and they’re already busy reviewing the $2 billion of requests that can’t all be funded.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.