One thing is clear, public servants had a full plate in 2020.
It was evident last year with the outbreak of COVID-19, the sudden shift to mass remote work and services, and the outcry for racial equity. These and other pressing issues will continue to be top of mind for government employees in 2021 and beyond.
During a recent GovLoop online training, our editorial team broke down five key trends the government community should have on its radar this year.
1. Diversity, equity and inclusion
2020 saw the beginning of a nationally historic reckoning around systemic racism, through which people sparked conversations, particularly about racism, in regard to diversity and inclusion across organizations. Some cities and counties declared racism a public health crisis and began putting measures in place to view policies and decision-making through a lens of equity.
As these conversations were unfolding at all levels of government, federal leaders were uncertain about the fate of diversity trainings within their agencies. Last year, President Trump issued an executive order banning “divisive” diversity and inclusion trainings paid for with federal funds. That led to a halt on training while the Office of Personnel Management reviewed agencies’ training materials.
For now, a federal court has ruled that the government cannot enforce the ban on contractors and grant recipients, but federal agencies continue to be under the executive order. This will likely be a key issue for the incoming administration, as advancing racial equity has been elevated as a key priority.
Current events underway to watch in 2021 include how the government continues down a path of allowing job candidates to qualify for employment using competency-based assessments rather than educational requirements when degrees are not required to perform a job.
At the state and local levels, how agencies prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in response to COVID-19, housing, public safety and other key areas will be top of mind in 2021. The hope is that diversity and inclusion truly becomes a part of the way an agency operates, approaches its mission and serves the public.
Data analytics certainly isn’t a new trend, but with the pandemic, the need for data and the power of data resounded. Furthered by the Federal Data Strategy, data analytics is being codified or “baked into” federal processes and procedures. One of the most recent outcomes was a data skills catalog and ethics framework released by the General Services Administration in December 2020.
Though there was much emphasis put on the governance portion before, now agencies are looking to put data into employees’ hands. For that to happen, all employees need to be data literate, from frontline staff to executives, so they can learn how to incorporate data into their decision-making.
According to a poll during the webinar, the majority of respondents – 71% – said their agency is using metrics more regularly.
3. Cybersecurity beyond the perimeter
Even with the vaccines on the horizon, agencies are expected to continue teleworking more than before the pandemic. With record numbers of government employees working remotely, the imperative to “graduate” from perimeter security is high. For years, cybersecurity experts have been saying that perimeter security, which is limited to a centralized location like an office building, is just not good enough. Agencies need to move security to the application or data layer.
This is where zero trust comes in. It’s a complex topic, but the basic idea of the model can be summed up like this: Never trust, always verify. Zero trust models will verify who the users are, the security of their devices and whether they have the right to access a resource before they are granted entry into a system. Agencies aren’t going to be completely zero trust-based all at once, but that is where they are headed.
4. Lowering the cost of government
New Jersey’s Chief Information Security Officer once said in an interview with GovLoop that if he was asked any year if he had enough money to do his job, the answer would be no.
Budget losses and restrictions due to the pandemic have tightened resources, particularly for state and local government. They will continue to think about ways to lower costs or get more value out of the money they are already spending. The town of Silverthorne for example tapped into its existing digital services investment to digitize grant disbursement for struggling small businesses in the area.
2020 also allowed agencies to throw norms out the window. The opportunity to change processes and policies can lead to more creativity and flexibility in lowering the cost of government.
5. Doing old things in new ways
The scaled-up remote work environment forced government to do its usual operations in new ways. What agencies found was that there were many barriers to changing processes, and these barriers were encoded in policy.
For example, why should a policy require a pen-and-ink signature when it can be digital? The Air Force for example chose to eliminate policy barriers like this one through an initiative called “Operation Flamethrower,” where a task force reviews and removes outdated policies that hinder the Air Force’s performance.
When circumstances are as unsettled as they have been, people are more open to different possibilities. Agencies will continue to adjust according to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic and other unpredictable events of 2021.