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Written by: Simon Szykman, Senior Vice President for Client Growth, U.S. Federal Services Segment, Maximus and Christian Larsen, Senior Associate, Public Policy, PSC

Earlier this year, PSC-in partnership with Maximus, a leading business process management and technology solutions company-released the 2021 Federal CIO Survey report: Managing Investments for the Innovation and Workforce of Tomorrow. This report reflects insights from CIO and IT executives across the federal landscape who offered their thoughts on IT modernization efforts, technology innovation, cybersecurity, and workforce issues.

The federal government continues to respond to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic on its blended military, civilian, and contractor workforce and its ability to execute the full range of federal missions. At the same time, departments and agencies are considering long-term investments in IT modernization and the security of federal networks. Considerations include the future composition of the blended federal workforce and employment incentives to recruit, train, and retain the right mix of people with the right mix of skills and capabilities.

In light of this reality, federal agencies are looking to drive more efficiency in daily operations that support their missions and objectives more effectively. At the heart of this matter are how best to:

  • Prioritize critical emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), data-driven analytics, and automation, into decision making processes
  • Structure how data are used, protected and shared across agencies and departments
  • Incorporate cybersecurity thinking and protections across the full spectrum of federal government activities
  • Look at the federal workforce from a "person'' perspective in order to improve recruitment as well as retention rates

Federal IT executives who participated in this survey stated that both IT modernization and cybersecurity continue to be high-priority areas. While participants said they have completed, or are in the process of completing, system migration to the cloud, many are also contemplating the use of AI, machine learning (ML), and automation. For these respondents, AI, ML, and automation can be utilized to enhance how data stored in the cloud can be operationalized and to elevate the customer experience for the American public. For cybersecurity, a vast majority of participants have or are implementing, zero-trust security protections and strategies that align with requirements from Executive Order 14028, Improving the Nation's Cybersecurity, signaling to industry that any products or services marketed to federal agencies must have the same or similar security designs in place to protect federal data.

Beyond technology and cybersecurity, this survey report also highlights human elements that could impact the future of federal IT (e.g., recruiting, training, and retaining people with the right skill sets; understanding, supporting, and mentoring the individual). While participants gave a general sense that the federal government faces challenges similar to those in the private sector-especially in terms of retention--compensation is a major factor in deciding whether to embrace a career in public service.

Federal agencies increasingly seek technology solutions to drive future outcomes and are also looking to the private sector for insights on emerging technologies and innovative solutions. The goal is to leverage private sector knowledge and capabilities to help address any gaps, both current and foreseeable. Toward that end, the federal government must recognize and, whenever practicable, embrace industry best practices and lessons learned, modify contracting requirements to support the acquisition of contractor solutions, and determine acceptable risks to spur innovation to stay competitive in a rapidly changing technology environment.

To view the fall report, visit