TMF, cyber EO drive modernization at Labor, CIO says

The unprecedented investment in IT and cybersecurity resources have provided agencies like the Department of Labor with a historic opportunity to tackle some of their loftiest modernization plans.

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Department of Labor CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said the president's cybersecurity executive order lit a fire under agencies with lofty modernization plans, while newly funded resources like the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) were providing paths to achieve those goals.

Speaking at a Meritalk event on Monday, Ahluwalia suggested a confluence of factors were causing significant advancements in governmentwide modernization efforts, from the increased scale of ransomware attacks targeting both the public and private sectors, to unprecedented investments in federal IT and cybersecurity.

"This is a marathon, it's not a sprint. We've been running this for a while," Ahluwalia said. "But now we have to use those tools, whether it's data loss prevention, whether it's two-factor authentication, whether it's the [Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation] program … I think this just brings it together, and creates this urgency and impetus to deliver that capability."

While many agencies have long-planned out their digitization and cybersecurity goals, the May executive order included aggressive deadlines, forcing department heads to reshape those plans with a focus on training, scaling up new technologies and providing direct hiring authorities to the appropriate officials, according to Ahluwalia.

The Labor Department has already begun repaying the TMF for a $3.5 million award the agency received to develop a secure electronic transfer process for labor certification documents, and it was recently awarded $9.6 million to support a second project focusing on data modernization. The agency is set to spend $818 million overall on IT in fiscal year 2022, according to the Federal IT Dashboard.

The agency was also among the highest scoring on the latest FITARA scorecard, which provides letter grades to assess progress on the implementation of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. The only area in which the Labor Department was not awarded an "A" was in cybersecurity, which Ahluwalia said he was hoping to fix during his tenure within the agency.

Besides equipping agencies with the necessary appropriations and funding through avenues like the TMF, Ahluwalia said staffing and "skilling up" IT and cybersecurity officials with the training to work with new technologies was critical to fully achieve modernization plans.

The White House fiscal year 2022 budget request included a proposal for a 13.5% staffing surge at DOL, which would add over 2,000 full-time employees at the agency.