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People are the Key to Solving Federal IT Problems

The federal government is facing multiple technology challenges that will impact its operations for years to come. Every agency is grappling with handling its data, modernizing its IT infrastructure and protecting its cybersecurity. The workforces each organization fields are crucial for leaping over these hurdles later.

Margaret Weichert, the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Deputy Director of Management, says that organizational culture is subsequently at the heart of federal IT reform. Meaningful change, she adds, comes from altering government employees’ attitudes and behavior.

“The foundation of change in any business system is a human foundation,” she said Monday in Philadelphia. “People are here because they care. It’s not the glory and the fame. It’s the mission. It’s how well we deliver services to people when they need it and how they need it.”

Weichert was speaking at the Imagine Nation Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) 2018. The American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) conducts the annual event.

The OMB official’s remarks come as federal agencies wrestle with finding, attracting and keeping top technology talent. Tomorrow’s government workforces need cybersecurity, data analyst and IT employees today.

“Talent acquisition is tricky,” Weichert said. “There’s a culture. It’s a way of work that may not fit. That’s why turnover is so high in the first few years after talent acquisition.”

Weichert also noted that federal data presents both enormous risks and enormous opportunities. Data could become a valuable commodity for agencies, she continued, but it also presents a cybersecurity challenge.

“Data is inextricably linked to information technology,” she said. “We don’t have the hygiene to think about using data as an asset resource.”

Cyber hygiene is a growing concern for government agencies worrying about insider threats. Insider threats are people with access to internal organizational data who mishandle it either intentionally or unintentionally. The accidental variety includes people who click suspicious links or connect to unsecure networks.

Weichert said, however, that properly handling data could drive financial gains for the federal government.

“We need to invest in data the way the private sector does,” she said. “We need to grow the pie and our overall economy. Data actually has the promise to do that.”

Weichert added that modernizing IT architectures remains an ongoing struggle for agencies. These outdated systems are hindering the public services being delivered to citizens.

“We have real challenges facing the legacy infrastructures that we operate with,” she said. “Checks and balances make a lot of sense. That said, I don’t think the Constitution’s framers anticipated the amount of overhead for mission delivery 240 years into the future.”

Weichert said that these and other obstacles will require teaching the federal workforce new tricks as technology evolves.

“We’re looking for proven, evidence-based ideas for reskilling our workforce,” she said. “We’re looking for ideas, whether it’s online commercials, gamification or apprenticeships. In some cases, we may need legislation to make that possible.”

Weichert added that cybersecurity, data management and workforce recruitment and retention are not only federal issues.

“We weren’t designed as a federal structure to do everything,” she said. “States have a key role to play. Cities, frankly, have played a leading role. The key to innovation is continuous learning and knowledge.”

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