Federal CIO Survey: It’s Cyber, Then Everything Else

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One CIO described cybersecurity as the government’s “never-ending bug hunt."

In the wake of the Office of Personnel Management hack last year that compromised millions of Americans’ personal information, the government’s top tech officials have made cybersecurity their top priority and concern heading into the 2016 election.

That’s according to new survey data from the Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton, which today released their 26th annual CIO Survey, compiled based upon interviews with 41 CIOs, chief information security officers and other federal IT officials across 23 agencies.

CIOs and CISOs were quick to point out that the federal cyber sprint in 2015 and later the Cyber National Action Plan were helpful in gaining both insights into their own organizations and establishing relationships in the CIO community to improve dialog about threats and mitigation.

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Yet, the IT experts surveyed suggested the government’s reliance on legacy systems, as well as its inability to properly compensate professionals in the ultra-competitive cybersecurity field, will compound an already challenging issue. One CIO described cybersecurity as the government’s “never-ending bug hunt,” where the hunters are constantly worried the bugs have somehow infected them and what they’ll have to do about it.

Beyond cybersecurity, several issues remain key.

The aforementioned reliance on old systems—PSC’s survey suggests 73 cents per dollar are spent on legacy tech compared to new systems development—was the second highest priority, and one that may have the most workable solutions to improve.

New legislation introduced last week by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, combines portions of prior IT bills and—if passed—would create revolving funds within agencies to bank money saved through IT modernization efforts. It could also create a Modernization Fund—staffed at appropriator’s discretionwhereby agencies borrow against it for IT modernization efforts and eventually pay the money back.

CIOs and CISOs also called for changes in hiring rules to make it easier to recruit and retain talented cyber personnel. CIOs felt special authorities and heightened pay scales ought to be extended to all agencies, at least with regards to cyber talent.

Improving acquisition and moving to the cloud were two other main priorities voiced in the survey, with one CIO calling procurement “too prescriptive,” and others suggesting more “quick, agile contracting vehicles” are necessary for agencies to meet their mission and forgo waterfall methodologies.