Federal CIO Previews 2019 Priorities

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OMB will roll out more reskilling programs, tweak FITARA scoring and is looking at standards for automated decision-making, Suzette Kent said.

The White House plans to launch three more initiatives next year to instill federal employees with the latest tech skills, according to the government’s top tech official.

Agencies should also expect some tweaks to the FITARA scorecard and “macro-level” guidelines for rolling out automation systems, Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said Thursday.

In 2019, the Office of Management and Budget also plans to roll out the first draft of the federal data strategy, increase transparency around the outcomes of workforce reskilling initiatives, and “move from concept to delivery” in adopting shared services, Kent said at the ATARC technology modernization summit. Cybersecurity and acquisition reform are also among the government’s top priorities for next year, she said.

“We’re always continuing to raise the bar and we’re going to continue to keep moving forward,” she said, after applauding the significant strides agencies made this year in data center consolidation, adoption of analytics and other modernization areas.

The White House last month began accepting applications for the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy, a program that will provide some two dozen feds with non-IT background with the training to qualify as cyber defense analysts. The academy comes as the first concrete initiative to retrain government employees for careers in tech, and OMB intends to stand up three more initiatives next year, according to Kent.

In the spring, officials plan to announce a second program that will train current IT professionals in areas where the government currently faces talent gaps, Kent said in a conversation with reporters. Later in the year, OMB will also kick off a course to train government IT specialists in robotic process engineering and another to groom promising tech professionals for future IT leadership roles, she said.

Over the course of the year, the CIO Council will monitor the success of each pilot program and determine whether there’s potential to expand it across the government, Kent said. Individual agencies will also have the opportunity to observe the results and decide if they want to stand up a similar program within their organization.

Kent also said government leaders will continue pushing its modernization agenda next year with revisions to the FITARA scorecard. Agencies showed significant overall improvement in the latest scorecard, and while Kent praised their progress, she noted it’s important the grading system evolves to reflect the changing tech landscape.

OMB previewed a cyber score in the last two iterations of the scorecard, and even though the category wasn’t included in the overall grade, eight agencies improved their cyber ratings over the last six months. Kent said the agency also plans to change its criteria for grading data center optimization to push agencies beyond just the “low-hanging fruit,” and noted officials are also considering adding categories related to digital health and customer experience.   

“I think that we will continue to have a dialogue around what things we’re going to emphasize as priorities for the agencies,” she told reporters. “[That’s] what the scorecard is—it’s a way to message to the agencies what Congress feels is a priority, and we try to line those up with all the things we’re doing.”

And as agencies start exploring ways to automate internal processes, Kent said it’s important they have high-level guidelines for inspecting those systems for quality and bias.

The government today lacks a broad framework for evaluating the accuracy of automated technologies, she said, and rules of the road are critical when building systems that inform significant real-world decisions, like approving loans or inspecting the safety of a facility.

OMB is collaborating with agencies and industry to hammer out some of those standards, Kent said. She expects to release a draft sometime next year.