While one primary focus of the Biden administration’s President’s Management Agenda is continuing to improve Federal IT to enable better delivery of citizen services, tech leaders from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explained on Feb. 1 that they face emerging challenges in pursuing those goals.

At AFCEA Bethesda’s 14th Annual Health IT Event, HHS officials discussed what they see as emerging challenges and innovations related to meeting the goals of the PMA, as well as agency goals.

For Shannon Jackson, executive director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at HHS, the biggest challenge comes down to “how do we grow that industrial base.”

“We have seen over time that the industrial base has decreased and that’s been a pattern, whether companies are going out of business, whether companies are being bought out and going to large companies,” Jackson said. “We learned a lot of things during COVID,” he said, adding that some “companies were not able to sustain until they got funding through the government.”

“To help grow that industrial base, we’ve got to get companies that have the capability that can actually support the requirements,” Jackson added.

Additionally, Jackson said companies and the Federal government need to bring in the right talent for the job, and work with “large partners” to help grow the industrial base.

As for emerging innovations, Ram Iyer, the chief data officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said he is leaning on innovation for his leadership approach.

“I’m taking an approach of leading with guidance,” Iyer said. “I’m looking for areas where there is an emerging technology where people are interested in learning more about it and using them. How can we give them guidance? How can we show them a strategy? Give them a playbook? Give them an environment where they can innovate?”

“So, they are learning through doing rather than coming to a meeting where a bunch of folks who are also somewhat equally mature as them are giving them advice on the technology. That’s the mind shift that we are trying to do,” he added.

Don Burgess, the deputy chief information officer at HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, said his team is “trying to do it right, right out the gate” when it comes to emerging innovations.

“We’re building an integrated data platform, and the intent of the data platform is to migrate existing data into a more secure environment – cloud-based – and in so doing, we plan to be able to align our datasets with other organizations,” Burgess said.

“We want to integrate, we want to be able to share information, and the only way to do that is to have these common datasets,” he added.

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