Federal CIOs laid the groundwork for COVID-19-related telework by modernizing systems and moving to the cloud, responded to the pandemic with rapid modernization, and have the opportunity to maintain momentum for further improvements to government technology, said Maria Roat, deputy Federal CIO.

Speaking at ATARC’s Federal IT Modernization Virtual Summit on Dec. 10, Roat shared her reflections on a year dominated by COVID. She noted that as CIO at the Small Business Administration (SBA) until May, her agency’s response was heavily reliant on the agency’s investments in cloud solutions.

“It’s important to point out that the investments that were made over the last several years in modern infrastructure, like zero-trust networks and investing in the flexibility and scalability of cloud-based solutions, really gave us the ability to scale when the pandemic hit,” she said. “I have first-hand experience at SBA with this, and I’ve seen this throughout the Federal government – if we had not taken some big moves to cloud over the last few years, we would not have accomplished what we did,” she emphasized.

She also credited the nimble response of agencies in response to bureaucratic concerns, with credit going to employees who worked all-nighters to ensure needed capabilities were in place, as she experienced at SBA.

“I want to acknowledge the workforce overall … the workforce – not just the CIOs but the CFOs and Federal leadership – got bureaucracy out of the way and reduced those barriers so that we could meet the mission and respond to the pandemic,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Roat said she wants Federal CIOs to keep the pace of innovation going into 2021. At the agency level, Roat highlighted the potential for digital services to improve and become more “anticipatory” of citizen and customer needs. She also noted that Congress needs to take steps to enable better funding models for multi-year projects, like supporting IT working capital funds at more agencies.

And she cited a timely example of that, with ongoing discussions in Congress over a continuing resolution for the Federal budget.

“Those large-scale modernization projects take time, and as a former CIO, not knowing my budget and if I’m going to be in a [continuing resolution], I need to know what that funding is going to be so I can drive multi-year modernization projects,” she said.

“The CIOs know what they need to do through their partnerships with the business and understanding the business of their agencies. They just need the flexibility to be able to do it,” Roat said.

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MeriTalk Staff