SBA Deputy CIO on Shifting Gears for COVID-19

COVID-19 has forced agencies to reinvent their operations. Look at the Small Business Administration (SBA), which supports entrepreneurs and small businesses. Since the pandemic began, SBA has juggled boosting the economy with improving public health.

Deputy CIO Guy Cavallo said SBA has weathered COVID-19 by approaching its routines from fresh angles. In an interview with GovLoop, Cavallo explained how SBA has evolved.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

GOVLOOP: How has COVID-19 changed your role?

CAVALLO: I think every teleworking employee is now gaining a new level of respect and appreciation for the IT staff and the operations – everything works seamlessly for them.

Like most government agencies in the middle of the federal government’s response to COVID-19, we’ve had a command center. We’re able to manage SBA’s critical role on getting money out to small businesses. While it was initially set up as a physical room like a traditional war-room operation, we recommended and quickly implemented making it a virtual command center using our collaboration tool.

So, instead of having our senior leadership all in the room together to be updated, now wherever our leadership is working from, they’re able to connect and see everything in real time.

What obstacles has SBA encountered while teleworking, and how are you solving them?

I think the biggest significant change is not just turning out paper. As an agency, we’d already started to reduce our paper output and do more things digitally. In fact, our security policy does not allow for printing documents at home, which has been an adjustment for many of our staff. We have modified our policy to allow very specific exceptions for short periods of time, and certain documents do require printing.

We were surprised that there are still some government documents that do not have a digital signature but require a wet signature. I know that the CIO Council is working to change that. We’ve set up an exception where we can grant somebody an hour, four hours or a day to print on their home computer during that time. But we then take that away. So, for people that want to print out a 100-page document, they’re learning that they’ve got to change and edit the document on their screen.

What long-term benefits could a more agile workforce create for SBA?

I would think the biggest impact is the realization across the board that we don’t need to have everybody in the office at the same time to be effective. Especially in the IT workforce, where experienced professionals with cloud architecture, agile development and other in-demand skills are in such limited supply right now. It is being able to hire somebody across the country and not move them to Washington, D.C. I think is a long-term benefit.

One of my top cloud developers lives in Texas full time. For the last year and a half, we’d fly him in for meetings a couple of times a year, but we’d otherwise only see him in teleconferences. When he was going to move to Texas, we had the choice of keeping him remotely or letting him go and hopefully trying to find somebody else. We decided to keep him as part of our team.

I’m hoping other senior leaders across government will see that if there’s somebody in Oregon who wants to work for you but doesn’t want to move, the tools and capabilities are available so you can trust and have them be part of your team without ever living in Washington, D.C.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent e-book, “Digital Transformation in Government.” Download the full e-book here.

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