Amidst the Pandemic, Government Still Gathers: How Professional Events Are Adapting

The events market was among the first industries to feel the impact of the coronavirus and will continue to feel its effects for months to come. GovEvents looked at the impact on the government events market and found that 22% of events listed on the site were canceled with no plans to reschedule in 2020. This means many missed opportunities for professional development, best practices sharing, and introduction to new technologies for public sector professionals. But as with many industries, the events market is quickly adapting and finding ways to provide education, development and collaboration for government professionals hungry to learn.

The event Is Canceled, but Learning Is Not.

Organizations that had events planned for early March through this summer had to decide whether to cancel, postpone, or move their events online. For many, canceling their government events was not an option. They had enthusiastic government speakers with stories to share and an audience thirsty for information. In fact, 26% of live events on GovEvents scheduled for March 16 or later moved to virtual.

DataRobot's AI Experience conference was scheduled for March 19. This one-day, in-person event brought together government leaders to discuss how they were using and how they wanted to use artificial intelligence (AI) to further their mission. DataRobot had planned to live stream the event as early as February since they were already getting news that registrants would not be able to travel so they had a streaming company and equipment ready to go. On March 11, gatherings of more than 250 were prohibited and DataRobot already had 550 registered so they began moving to a virtual format. A few days later it became clear they would not be able to get the speakers to the venue either, so they pivoted once again and moved it all to a remote stream.

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When Telework Stopped Being a Remote Possibility

Man Working Using Laptop on Coffee TableAt the beginning of 2020, the idea that the vast majority of the federal workforce would be working from home seemed like a remote (pun intended) reality. However, due to shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. this spring, much of the public sector work was being done from kitchen tables, guest bedrooms, and home offices. This fast pivot to remote work left agencies scrambling to get devices to employees now separated from their desks, develop reliable and secure connections to enterprise systems and applications, and re-engineer decades-old processes to accommodate fully virtual teams. Some examples include:

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a workaround to give employees access to systems when they could not use their PIV card. An alternative credential process was created in under a month, enabling DHS to issue credentials that included logical access tokens to give employees and contractors access to DHS networks only. Unlike a PIV card, this credentialing system doesn't have the employee or contractor's photo ID or allow physical access to a DHS building.
  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued Temporary Procedures for Personnel Vetting and Appointment of New Employees During Maximum Telework Period Due to Coronavirus COVID-19. These procedures included deferring the fingerprint requirement for background checks and opened the door to PIV card alternatives like the one created by DHS.
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Entering a Brave New World of Government Acquisition

We've covered how government procurement is evolving to meet the way agencies implement and consume technology. From agencies' use of public cloud platforms to agile development methodologies, old acquisition methods are unable to keep up with the pace and process required by modernization and digital transformation goals across government. In fact, the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act was implemented to allocate funds specifically for the update of legacy IT systems to help agencies improve service delivery to the public, secure sensitive data and systems, and increase efficiency. To meet these mandates, procurement processes and technology have to change to be more in tune with the digital transformations happening at the operational level.

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AI Goes Local

State and local agencies are home to some of the most innovative ideas in government. Their use of artificial intelligence (AI) is no exception. Localities are embracing AI as a way to make sense of all the data they hold to better understand how citizens are using their services and where gaps may exist. A survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released in the fall of 2019 found that 32% of those surveyed "strongly agreed" that AI and related technologies can help them meet citizen demands and improve operations. Specifically, the survey found that nearly 50% of respondents planned to use AI as a way to shift workers away from rote tasks and toward high-value activities.

Taking a look around the country, we see some interesting applications of AI at the state and local level.

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FedRAMP’s Role in a Post-COVID World

The Federal Risk and Automation Management Program, more widely known as FedRAMP, was put in place in 2011 to create a standardized approach to evaluating the security controls of cloud solutions for government use. For nearly a decade, FedRAMP has continually evolved to keep up with the growing availability of and demand for cloud solutions. In fact, the number of authorizations granted between 2016 and 2018 increased roughly 33% year over year.

With this in mind, the latest modernization of FedRAMP may be coming via the FedRAMP Authorization Act of 2019, which would expedite the approval process. Of particular interest is language in the bill that introduces the "presumption of adequacy." This means that once a cloud vendor is authorized through the FedRAMP process with one agency, it is cleared to work with other agencies under that initial authorization. The legislation also formalizes roles and responsibilities, designating the Office of Management and Budget as responsible for FedRAMP policy and making the General Services Administration in charge of day-to-day implementation. Finally, the bill stipulates metrics to track the implementation of the program.

Further influencing the demands on FedRAMP is the quick surge of support for flexible cloud solutions to enable telework environments amid the COVID-19 response. These developments may have a significant impact moving forward. While private industry is stepping up and offering technology for free to help secure public health and safety, the federal government must still look to FedRAMP guidance in utilizing cloud solutions. Today, more than ever, a quick and efficient approval process is essential.

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