As Doors Open…Citizens Still Want to Meet Online

As we emerge from the isolation of the pandemic and begin interacting in person again, it will be in a world that looks and feels a lot different. While we crave human interaction, that does not mean we want to go back to standing in lines at office buildings to complete certain tasks. Over the past year, people have gotten used to doing things virtually. Government agencies have made incredible progress moving traditionally manual, paper-intensive, in-person processes online, and there's no reason that should stop now that in-person is an option.

Additionally, the ability to get information online will continue to be an expectation of citizens. During the pandemic, local, state, and federal agencies quickly got data out to citizens regarding COVID cases, restrictions, and later vaccinations to help inform and shape behavior. In fact, Ohio had a jump on many states. They had launched Ohio Checkbook well before the pandemic to provide anyone a look at real-time state budgeting, financial and transactional data. Using that as a starting point, they quickly launched their COVID portal. Post-pandemic, all government agencies need to look at how the COVID data systems can be used to get other critical information and communication to the public about transportation, human services, workforce and more.

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Putting Work into Defining the Government Workforce

The last year has brought about incredible change in the federal workforce, and it shows no sign of stopping. With a new Director for the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) confirmed, the next several months will bring new energy and activity to formalizing and standardizing workplace policies, processes, and approaches for the "new normal" of a digital-first government.

The move to telework changed how many people view and even perform their jobs. Before the pandemic, telework was sporadically used throughout government and viewed pretty skeptically. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's clear that government can continue to function without people in office buildings from 9am-5pm. As in-person work starts to come back around, the new shift will be in defining and managing a hybrid workforce.

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The Telework Genie is Free. Now What?

In regards to remote working, the general consensus seems to be, "you can't put the genie back in the bottle."

A good portion of the government workforce has been working from home for the past year, and the world has continued turning. In fact, some agencies report productivity is up since teleworking became the norm. While people will return to the office, it will look different with many alternating office days with days they work from home. The past year has shown us that working arrangements do not necessarily need to be confined to an office. And, when we also remove the stress of students learning from home, caring for homebound elderly parents, and a pandemic in general, employees may realize a new level of balance and job satisfaction.

To support the continued success of remote work, agencies need to shore up the IT that was put in place to simply keep the trains running on time. Some technology was implemented quickly to meet the immediate need, and now is the time to take a hard look at all of those solutions to see if they will scale to meet the long-term reality of a dispersed workforce.

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The Show Must Go On. How State and Local Governments are Powering Through Budget Shortfalls

Though the word may be overused, state and local governments are indeed facing unprecedented challenges. Forced to move operations online in response to their own stay-at-home orders, state and local agencies have spent the last year retooling how they serve citizens. They have been paying for necessary technology upgrades and other new equipment while revenues from taxes have dropped considerably. Even with these financial challenges, state CIOs are committed to continuing with their innovation and modernization efforts.

A study from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) showed that priorities for state and local CIOs stayed consistent over the last year, with cybersecurity and enhancing digital citizen service being the top two. Of course, these two areas saw critical investments in 2020 just to keep the business of government running. In 2021, the solutions put in place will be revisited, evaluated for efficiency, and operationalized to support agencies moving forward.

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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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