The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) said today it is targeting $100 million of nearer-term funding awards to Federal agencies that want to undertake projects to improve customer experiences with the government.

The announcement of the funding plans today by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) – which administers the TMF – says that the “funding will support innovative technology projects focused on reducing burdens on the American public and the federal workers who serve them.”

Improving citizen services is one of four primary goals that the TMF has been pursuing in evaluating projects to parcel out to agencies the $1 billion infusion the fund received from Congress last year.  In addition to citizen service improvements, the priority areas also include agency projects to improve cybersecurity, modernize “high priority” systems, and create more cross-government collaboration.

TMF has more than $700 million in its coffers currently – both from the 2021 infusion and prior year allocations – and reckons it has made about $400 million of funding awards from the $1 billion received last year.  While some of those awards are for projects to improve citizen services, more than half of them have been for cybersecurity-related projects including work on and awards to individual agencies for zero trust security projects.

Federal CIO Clare Martorana said in an interview with MeriTalk today that the $100 million figure for citizen experience-related TMF projects does not mark any kind of limit in planning for those kinds of projects.

“It’s not a cap,” the Federal CIO said. “It’s really an amount that gives us a target rather than setting a limit.”

Martorana said she feels “very confident” that the TMF Board will see a substantial flow of proposals come in in response to the call for customer experience projects. “We have a high level of confidence that there are teams that are really busy doing this work across government, and could use some help to accelerate some of the work that they are doing,” she said.

CX Policy Drivers

The focus on improving customer service already has plenty of Federal policy weight behind it, including President Biden’s December 2021 executive order on improving customer experience.

That order, among other steps, calls for a redesign of the existing website as a central “digital Federal front door” for the public to access all government benefits, services, and programs. The order envisions that citizens be able to use that front door “in just 1 to 3 clicks, taps, or commands from the homepage, without navigating duplicate and outdated Federal websites.”

The executive order further orders Federal agencies to “put people at the center of everything the Government does.” As a first step, the order set out 36 customer experience improvement “commitments” across 17 Federal agencies, “all of which aim to improve people’s lives and the delivery of Government services.”

The December 2021 order followed closely on the heels of the November 2021 release of the Presidential Management Agenda “vision” document that identifies CX improvements – along with workforce and acquisition issues – as centerpieces of the administration’s agenda going forward.

The EO’s focus on citizen service improvements falls squarely in line with major policy objectives outlined in numerous speeches before then and since by Federal CIO Clare Martorana.

Shortly after the White House released the customer experience order last December, Martorana said at MeriTalk’s TMF Forward virtual event that forthcoming rounds of TMF awards likely would be focused more on projects that will foster citizen service improvements.

Today’s announcement of the $100 million TMF set-aside for customer service projects appears to drive toward that goal.

Speaking with MeriTalk today, Martorana said TMF’s plan to target $100 million of customer experience-related projects for lines up closely with both policy directives.

“We are working both with the customer experience executive order and the President’s Management Agenda, looking at both of those as opportunities for us to work collaboratively with agencies,” she said, and in particular looking at the policy goal of improving the government’s customer service to match up with life experiences of citizens.

“There’s this concept of life experiences where a customer – a member of the public – might interact across multiple agencies,” she said. “So we’ve defined some of these life experiences, we are doing some discovery work on those, and I would imagine that we will have component pieces of those – or maybe a whole life experience at some point – coming and looking for further investment” from the TMF, she said.

In its announcement today, the fund said its board that evaluates agency project proposals will “prioritize investing in projects that span across agencies and will cut down on frustrating wait times, duplicative paperwork, and bureaucratic barriers people too often face when interacting with their Government.” Along those same lines, TMF said its board “will also prioritize projects aimed at improving a wide range of essential Federal Government capabilities and systems.”

Renewed Call for Proposals

Federal agencies that want to apply for a piece of the CX-focused $100 million of TMF funding – and have heavy public-facing exposure to citizen service – are being urged to do quickly.

“Any Federal agencies that provide public-facing information, benefits, services, and programs can apply for this funding by Monday, August 1 for expedited consideration, or by September 30, on a rolling basis,” OMB and GSA said.“All Federal agencies and High-Impact Service Providers (HISPs), which serve the largest percentage of people, conduct the greatest volume of transactions annually, and have an outsized impact on the lives of the individuals they serve, are eligible to apply for the designated funding,” the agencies said.

OMB and GSA said the TMF Board’s selection criterial for this round of CX-focused projects will include:

  • Projects that are supported by customer research and data;
  • Projects that “cut across agencies and systems, address immediate security gaps, and improve the public’s ability to access and manage Government services”;
  • Agencies that have technology teams and systems that are capable of rapidly designing, prototyping, and deploying modern digital tools and services based on human-centered design”; and
  • Projects that feature “measurable goals to ensure TMF investments are addressing real customer pain points and gaps in accessibility and equity.”

“Federal service delivery has not kept pace with the needs and expectations of the public,” Federal CIO Martorana said in a statement today.

“The American people deserve a Government that puts people at the center of everything it does,” she said. “With this funding, we will deploy secure technology that reduces costs for agencies, eliminates burdens for the Federal workforce and those it serves, and powers services that meet the public’s expectations.”

“Government technology and websites can and must work better for the people and communities we serve,” commented GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. 

“Targeted TMF funding focused on making their lives easier when they need government services is a no brainer,” she said, adding, “It’s also a smart way to invest tax dollars to ensure the American people are getting the most for their money.”

Help on the Way

Asked today about help that the government can lend to agencies that want to undertake customer service improvement projects but that may not have the on-staff expertise, both Martorana and Raylene Yung, the TMF’s executive director, advised that help is available from several quarters, including TMF board staff, the U.S. Digital Service and GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS) organization.

“This is a team sport, and what we recognize is that not every agency is in the exact same place in their journey, so we think of this as an all-of-government effort,” Martorana said. “Working with our United States Digital Service colleagues, ad with the TTS team at GSA … really gives us an opportunity to help surge some capabilities.”

She also pointed out that Federal agencies considered to be “high-impact” service providers with large public-facing functions have been working on customer experience improvements “for quite a while” and have lessons to share with other agencies.

“They share journey maps, for example, which is a human centered design research methodology that we use to see where someone is interacting with government services,” Martorana said.  “When one organization or program or agency does that, they actually share them in a community of practice. So I think that there’s lots of opportunities for us to work together.”

Yung added that the TMF itself can provide additional help to agencies with their customer experience-focused projects. “Our support goes far beyond funding,” she explained.

“We also have a team of subject-matter experts that we’re building, and the idea is that we can help agencies learn about what good user design and customer experience research looks like, help advise on procurement,” and connect them with other resources as part of a larger effort to help agencies build additional skills internally.

Industry Support

Ross Nodurft, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI), said today that his group “supports using money from the Technology Modernization Fund to improve customer experience,” and called those kinds of investments “integral to providing modern digital services.”

“ADI encourages the TMF board to consider projects that leverage commercial solutions and technology that can provide significant advances in customer experience from the beginning of implementation,” he said. “Cloud-based technologies take customer experience into account from the beginning of product development, so use of modern, commercial solutions offer significant improvements over legacy, bespoke or non-existent digital services,” he urged.

Read More About
More Topics
John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.