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.
Fall visits to the farmers market take us back to simpler times when people lived off the land. Today's farmers may provide the same "output" of food, but how they manage the growth and distribution of it has changed dramatically.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 1862 and was nicknamed "The People's Department" by President Lincoln because of its mission to support the farmers that feed the nation. Today, the USDA is focused on providing "leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management."
In achieving this mission, the USDA has become a hub for innovation. It was chosen as the first host agency for a modernization Center of Excellence (CoE). Spearheaded by the General Services Administration (GSA), the CoE at USDA was established to accelerate IT modernization across government to improve the public experience and increase operational efficiency. The CoE centralizes top government tech talent and combines it with private sector experts and expertise to implement best practices to move processes and technologies ahead. The CoE is focused on five functional areas: Cloud Adoption, Contact Center, Customer Experience, Data Analytics, and Infrastructure Optimization.
In place since 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) has aimed to provide guidance and checkpoints for agencies' modernization efforts. Over the years, the compliance status of the agencies has had its ups and downs.
The latest report card, issued in June 2019 showed fairly steady performance when it comes to meeting FITARA goals and mandates. This 8.0 report card was the first to include a cybersecurity score that focused on FISMA (Federal Information Security Modernization Act) compliance. This report also took out the score for Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) as the majority of agencies are holding steady on that score and/or it is complicated by technology interdependencies.
It's back to school time, so we thought it only fitting to take a look at the Department of Education (ED) to get a sense of what is on their "syllabus" for the next government fiscal year. The stated mission of the Department is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." It is a fairly new cabinet-level agency established in 1980. In addition to providing federal support and coordination to the states, the agency is responsible for administering loans and grants for higher education.
A current focus for the Department is modernization. A recent GAO report looked at the ten most critical updates needed in government. ED had one system on the list that was relying on COBOL programming language, a language that is not used or taught anymore, and those who do know it are retiring from the workforce.
Beyond this obvious and critical modernization need, the Department is looking at many other modernization initiatives, including updating the federal student loan process to streamline and simplify applications. Similarly, ED is actively investigating ways that modernized loan systems can reduce and even stop fraud involved in loan applications.
For people working with the Department of Education, there are several conferences and events in the coming months that address the education sector directly as well as guide modernization more generally.
Public Sector Innovation Summit (October 2, 2019; Arlington, VA) - This event brings together IT leaders from government and industry to discuss best practices, opportunities, and key trends in the government technology space. Additional focus areas include efficiently moving to the cloud, transforming IT to modernize government, innovating in a risk-averse culture, and much more.
EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (October 14-17, 2019; Chicago, IL) - Focused on the higher ed IT market, professionals and technology providers from around the world will come together to share ideas, grow professionally, and discover solutions to today's challenges. Topics include managing and reducing information technology risk, navigating change, transforming the student experience, and creating a culture of data-informed decision-making.
P3 Higher Education Summit (October 24-25, 2019; San Diego, CA) -- Public-private partnerships (P3s) are delivering essential infrastructure on campuses across the country. University representatives and industry leaders will discuss the latest modes of campus infrastructure delivery. The agenda will focus on P3 education, financing, procurement, policy, and networking.
Blockchain Expo North America (November 13-14; Santa Clara, CA) - This event will include a series of expert keynotes, interactive panel discussions and solution-based case studies exploring the key industries that are set to be disrupted the most by this new technology, including financial services, government, and education.
Let us know what other events could benefit people working at the federal level of education. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Improving citizen experience continues to be a huge priority of agencies as part of their digital modernization. In fact, one survey found that more than half of government employees said there was a gap between the customer service their agency provides and what they experience in the private sector. While creating self-service portals is a big part of modernization, contact centers will continue to play a huge role in how the government interacts with citizens.
Contact centers may be more traditionally or commonly known as call centers. But this change in vocabulary is more than just semantics. Today's centers extend well beyond contact over the phone. To provide modern customer service, contact centers need to encompass online queries via email, live chats, social media, and in-person visits, in addition to phone calls. The response people get over these multiple mediums needs to be consistent and requires an overarching strategy and message that is understood by all representatives regardless of how they interact with citizens.