We've written about the government's ongoing efforts to improve their ratings when it comes to "customer" experience. Across government, agencies have made citizen experience (CX) a focus of their digital strategy. They are working to implement new technologies and processes to make it easier for citizens to get the information they need about government services. The progress agencies were able (or not able) to make came into focus in the way they were able to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The measure of CX success can be looked at in two ways:
How quickly were agencies able to transition to providing their normal level of service while working remotely?
How responsive were agencies to increased pandemic-related citizen interaction?
While there were many speed bumps in getting government functions up and running from a distributed telework model, many agencies found that investments they had been making in telework specifically and digital government, in general, paid huge dividends in their COVID response. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had completed a full refresh of laptops meaning that all employees had up-to-date hardware and software to start their work from home adventure. Other agencies who had worked to incorporate technology, even as basic as e-signatures, found themselves able to move quicker than agencies still working with manual processes.
But, all the preparation in the world could not prepare for the scope and speed of the pandemic crisis. A study from the Information Technology Innovation Foundation looked at the performance of state unemployment websites and found that 26 state websites failed. The National Association of State CIOs found that about three-quarters of states have launched chatbots to help their agencies answer unemployment insurance or COVID-related questions and take the pressure off both websites and call centers. The Texas Workforce Commission was able to employ a chatbot named Larry to help with volumes that reached 98,000 online unemployment applications in one day. Larry has been able to answer 4.8 million questions for 1.2 million people. Continue reading →
This spring, the concept of supply chains became a household discussion as families searched high and low for household staples like toilet paper, flour, and hand soap. However, supply chain for government is more complex than the supply and demand driven model for consumer goods. Government supply chains involve monitoring for security and foreign involvement. This means knowing where all parts of a solution were manufactured, programmed, and assembled.
Gregory C. Wilshusen, director of information security issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, noted that "supply chains can be long, complex, and globally distributed and can consist of multiple outsourcing tiers. As a result, agencies may have little visibility into, understanding of, or control over how the technology that they acquire is developed, integrated, and deployed."
This lack of visibility is due in part to incomplete vendor reporting. Not only do vendors have to manage all the pieces of their solution, but they themselves may be managed by multiple organizations in an agency. Reporting happens through numerous tools and is siloed, making it difficult to get a full picture of the chain that led to the delivery of a solution to a government agency.
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.
The annual Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) report was delivered to Congress in May and contained encouraging news. The report, tracking agencies' ability to meet the guidelines set forth in FISMA, showed that there were 8% fewer cybersecurity incidents across government in fiscal year 2019. Additionally, the report showed that 73 agencies meet the highest FISMA rating, up from 62 in 2018.
All of this improvement comes at a time when more attacks are being carried out against agencies and those attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated. The government's ability to stay ahead of the increasing attack vectors can be attributed to compliance with federal regulations and mandates including Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program and the National Cybersecurity Protection System.
Additionally, a focus on educating federal employees about spear phishing, the practice of sending emails that look like they are coming from a known or trusted sender to intice targeted individuals to reveal confidential information, has also paid off. The report showed that the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Commerce had the largest reduction in phishing-related security incidents via email. Fittingly, the Department of Education earned a proverbial gold star, reporting zero phishing incidents. They attributed this success to employing "increasingly complex phishing scenarios" to improve spam filtering and implementing anti-phishing policies with their email provider. Continue reading →
At 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.