Making the Grade: All Agencies Receive a Passing Score on FITARA Scorecard

For the first time ever, every government agency received a passing score on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) Scorecard. Now, this does not mean that everyone made the honor roll, rather the general GPA is around a C.

FITARA was enacted in 2014, and report cards come out twice a year to measure and track progress in meeting the modernization efforts outlined in the legislation. The scorecard has evolved over the years as deadlines have passed, and new modernization metrics have been implemented.

The coronavirus pandemic underscored the need for modernization. Agencies had to hustle to move processes fully online and make them accessible to a remote workforce and the public who could no longer visit government offices to conduct business. It reinforced the need for modernization to move from a wish list or "we'll get there" item to a critical need.

In this 10th report, The General Services Administration (GSA) received an A+ grade on the scorecard for the second time in a row. The Education Department dropped out of the A-range, falling to a B. They joined two other agencies in dropping scores, while seven agencies showed improved results, and 14 stayed the same. The majority of agencies passed in the C-range. Continue reading

Developing Interest in DevOps

DevOps, a combination of the words development and operations, is designed to smooth the frequently problematic handoff between an organization's developers and its operations staff. It is an operational philosophy that has technology developers and the operational team who will use the technology working together closely through the entire development of a technology solution. The goal of this approach is quick releases of solutions that have an immediate impact on how people do their jobs.

On the surface this sounds like a perfect fit for government, an "industry" in need of fast digital transformation to meet citizen needs. The DevOps promise of making application development quicker and cheaper is incredibly attractive to the government. However, the third part of the promise, collaboration, proves to be the most problematic as culture and process stand in the way.

From a culture perspective, organizations need to break down silos and create brand new teams focused on an application's output, rather than on tactical roles. To achieve this goal, individuals need to be empowered with autonomy and be enabled with strong communication skills to ensure everyone understands their roles and buys into the overall project objective. As U.S. Special Operations Command CIO Lisa Costa described it, "creating a DevOps culture is akin to practicing tactical shooting. You remove all extraneous movement, and that's how you get efficiency." She said her team focused on stripping away processes that had accumulated over the years but were not serving the objective of getting solutions out to the field quickly. Continue reading

Building on Citizen Experience Gains

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:

  1. How quickly were agencies able to transition to providing their normal level of service while working remotely?
  2. 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

Renewing the Focus on Citizen Experience

Citizen Experience (CX) has been an important focus for many government agencies, as well as a key tenant of the President's Management Agenda. Now with considerably more people depending on government support for everything from general public health information to loans to keep small businesses running to unemployment benefits, CX is more important than ever.

While government still scores poorly on customer satisfaction surveys when compared with commercial organizations, there have been a number of bright success stories in the federal market. Looking at what has worked, there are several themes that every agency should keep in mind when designing customer experience improvements.

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Meeting the Needs of the Federal Workforce

The U.S. Federal government is the single largest employer in the country (even just counting civilian employees, not military). With the size and scope of work involved in running our government programs, this community of over two million people is incredibly diverse, but there are some commonalities in terms of workforce challenges and concerns.

  • Automation - There is a real fear as digital initiatives become routine and administrative tasks are automated, machines will take over the work of humans. However, workforce and technology leaders have said over and over this is simply not the reality. Yes, certain tasks that people used to do will be handled by machines, but that shift frees up those same people to do other, more valuable work. The government is committed to "reskilling" the workforce to be able to rise to these new, more innately human tasks and, in turn, expect to see increased job satisfaction as people move from rote, mundane tasks, to activity that has a closer connection to the mission of the organization they work for.
  • Relocation - The military has grown accustomed to the BRAC process as bases are closed or their use changes to better support the realities of global defense. However, relocation is now a reality for the civilian workforce. With telework and remote workforces now better enabled, it is not as critical that all workers are located in Washington, DC. The government, including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, has been looking for ways to consolidate operations in areas that are more central to the constituents they serve and are in areas of the country with lower real estate prices and cost of living.
  • Stability - Once thought to be the most stable of jobs, recent spending impasses and resulting government shutdowns have left one in four government workers worried about the impact a shutdown would have on their life.

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