Cross-agency collaboration efforts are making progress

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Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat says that she hopes to see agencies participating in a collaboration pilot be able to share calendars and chat before her retirement in March.

An effort to make it easier for employees at different agencies to collaborate is making progress, Maria Roat, the deputy federal chief information officer, said at an FCW event on Wednesday. 

The endeavor to build interagency collaboration capabilities began last year as a pilot program through the CIO Council. In the fall, a program management office was established in the General Services Administration for the effort. 

The basic goal is to have a way for employees to more easily work with fellow feds at other agencies. The first target is chat and calendar sharing across agencies.

It seems small, but it can have a big effect, said Roat. 

"We're continuing to be aggressive and push on that, and I'm pretty excited about it because this is the baby step of a much larger impactful project for the federal government to be able to collaborate internally with each other - being able to share data, being able to share information, all of that," she said. "This is one little thing that I think is hugely impactful."

During the pilot, which ended in July 2021, the Department of Education, NASA, National Science Foundation and Small Business administration used Microsoft Teams to better enable real-time chat abilities and calendar sharing across agencies. 

Now, the project is "going live with agencies," said Roat, pointing to weekly meetings with agencies and a weekly scorecard of progress. Agencies are working on whitelists now to be able to share calendars across agencies and enable chat components, she said.

The problems aren't necessarily technical, said Roat. The "technical part" is actually "really easy around interagency collaboration."

But agencies are still working on memorandums of understanding, Roat said, a point that came up during the pilot. 

"You know there was a lot of discussion out of the pilot, 'well I need an MOU to be able to talk to so and so.' Well, it makes no sense for me to do an MOU with 30 other agencies, how about if I just do one that's a blanket one for everybody," she explained. "So agencies are working through that."

The end goal of the project isn't necessarily vendor-specific, said Roat. There is testing going on about sharing between Microsoft and Google environments,

"It's much more than that. It's not just about the technology," she said. "We're also looking holistically at what are the policies? … Because people always raise questions about records, and [the Freedom of Information Act] and things like that."

Roat referenced collaboration guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration that will need to be updated, for example.

Roat, who is retiring at the end of March, said that she hopes to see "all the agencies that are participating be able to chat and share calendars with each other" before she leaves. 

"This is much bigger than just doing chat and calendar sharing. This is the first baby step into a much bigger vision of having broad, interagency capabilities around collaboration across the federal government. So this is just the first baby step of that much bigger project," she said.