The Federal government’s hard-won experience in employing technology to help bridge the COVID-19 crisis points to the pressing need for more investments in the latest tech, top-notch security, workforce advancement, and a renewed culture of innovation aimed at improving how government serves citizens across the board.
Those are the top-line findings from a new report, “Resilient, Keeping Your WITS – Workforce, Innovation, Technology, Security – About You,” that explores how Federal government IT has often functioned well – but sometimes less so – during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
300 Fed Leaders Surveyed
The report – prepared by MeriTalk, ACT-IAC, and the Partnership for Public Service – draws on the survey input of 300 Federal leaders and several roundtable discussions to distill what government needs to do next to improve IT functions during the health crisis, and to become better prepared to meet future emergencies.
The three organizations are sponsoring the Resiliency Colloquium on Feb. 9 for an in-depth discussion with Federal leaders about the report’s findings, and the path forward.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a watershed moment for the federal government,” the report says. “It became clear that America’s resilience depends on the federal government’s resilience. The coronavirus pandemic highlighted that our government must have the tools and resources to serve the public even during external shocks and changing circumstances.”
“While most agencies are succeeding in moving the mission forward despite the coronavirus, well-documented challenges agencies have faced for years, even decades, have made it more difficult for some of them to muster a successful response,” the report continues, while flagging public health data, difficulties in distributing economic stimulus, and rising cybersecurity threats as persistent problems.
“Federal agencies must invest in their workforces as a strategic asset, foster a culture of innovation, renew their focus on cybersecurity, and purchase the newest technologies,” the report says. “Only sustained investments in innovation, security, technology, and workforce can ensure government is ready to face a post-COVID pandemic world and new crises that arise.”
The report’s primary recommendations in each of those four areas are:
On the all-important workforce front, the report says agencies should work with individual employees to determine when and where they get their best work done, and employ workplace flexibilities to tap into remote talent pools outside of commuting distance to agency headquarters.
Agencies also need to encourage more collaboration between IT and human resources departments on remote work and collaboration technology and capabilities, technology training, and creating agency culture that embraces the use of technology tools.
Federal leaders, the report says, “must keep their WITS about them as they seek to transform government and improve its resilience. With nearly nine out of 10 respondents in our survey affirming that America’s resilience depends on the resilience of its government, it’s time to act decisively.”
Federal agencies should redouble efforts to create more robust innovation climates by using proven methods to encourage experiments with creative projects, and to surface and implement new ideas, the report says. Hand in hand with that effort, agencies should frequently review and revise outdated processes, replace them with processes and technologies that improve performance, and encourage use of online ideation platforms through which employees can collaborate in developing and testing ideas that solve problems.
Agencies should reward employees who identify better ways to do their work, and also should assess the agency’s appetite for risk in order to help employees balance risk and reward as they pursue changes that will improve mission outcomes.
The report calls for agencies to continue modernizing legacy systems and moving them to the cloud, while seeking multi-year funding to support those effort by setting up IT working capital funds and seeking loans through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).
As a vital corollary to modernization, agencies should seek to establish common data standards and taxonomies so they can share data between agencies and offices, the report says. Once those are established, agencies can then purchase new shared technologies that can access, read, and share data from any agency.
On the security front, agencies need to embrace zero trust security concepts, and employ artificial intelligence tools to help manage exponential increases in cyber threat data, the report finds.
On the human capital front, the report says agencies need to engage in continuous employee security training – not just as a once-off activity – and include in that training security drills and simulations to show employees how to recognize and respond to cyber threats. Agency project managers, the report finds, should understand the role of cybersecurity in their projects, and how to secure the technology tools and devices their programs use.
January 27 MeriTV
Tune in to the inaugural episode of MeriTV on Jan. 27 to further explore the research with insights from ACT-IAC, Google Cloud, and the Partnership for Public Service. Hear the priorities, aspirations, and pain points of Federal IT executives and mission owners as they strive to create a more resilient future.
February 9 Colloquium
Please join MeriTalk, ACT-IAC, and the Partnership for Public Service on Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST for the Resiliency Colloquium virtual event where Federal technology leaders will lead an indepth discussion of the report’s findings.
Featured speakers include:
- Gundeep Ahluwalia, CIO and deputy assistant sectary for operations, DOL;
- Jane Datta, assistant administrator and chief human capital officer, NASA;
- Sean Connelly, TIC program manager, Office of the Chief Technical Officer, CISA, DHS [pending approval];
- Congressman Gerry Connolly, chairman, House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations;
- Sanjay Gupta, chief technology officer, Small Business Administration
- Trevor Norris, deputy assistant secretary for human resources and chief human capital officer, DoT;
- Maria Roat, deputy administrator and deputy Federal CIO, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President [pending approval];
- Tony Scott, former Federal CIO and CEO, Tony Scott Group; and
- Alex Smith, chief technology officer, Information System Division, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice.