US federal CIO signals long-term shift away from face-to-face meetings

By on 26/05/2020
Suzette Kent says the shift to remote working "gives us real data and real feedback – not ‘what if’ scenarios" – on how services can be delivered by a distributed workforce. (Image courtesy: CIO.gov).

US federal bodies are likely to redesign their “physical footprint” in the light of COVID-19, the federal chief information officer of the United States has said, arguing that “in the future it will be mandatory to have a workforce that is technology-enabled, constantly connected and where human interactions can occur potentially without human contact.”

In a keynote speech, delivered via video link as part of the Adobe Digital Government Symposium last week, Suzette Kent said that the move to telework may lead to government agencies moving away from in-person services. Civil servants’ shift to remote working “gives us real data and real feedback – not ‘what if’ scenarios” – on how services can be delivered by a distributed workforce, she said. “Federal teams can now reconsider what their physical footprint needs to look like. But more importantly for all of us, what continued investments we need in our technical infrastructure and what our future road map looks like of digital capabilities.”

Kent added that agencies are “thinking about previously on-site activities and ways that they can now use digital tools to spread those across a distributed workforce”. This, she said, may lead agency bosses to reduce their dependence on face-to-face meetings with service users. She gave the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs as examples, both of which have shifted from in-person to phone interviews.

Increased inter-agency data sharing

Kent said that 95% of employees at some agencies are working from home. This, she said, is driving other changes such as increased inter-agency data sharing; the use of digital signatures, including for official documents and by senior leaders within government; and a spike in demand for collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams.

On the latter, she said: “In this case, whether you measure it by user numbers, by number of minutes, by [virtual private network] traffic, we’ve hit historic use levels and expanded adoption of tools across every single agency.”

During the event, Kent also confirmed that departments including those responsible for agriculture and transportation have seen productivity either maintained or boosted since staff began working from home.

Department of Transportation CIO Ryan Cote said the department has “absolutely seen an increase in productivity”. He said he couldn’t pinpoint why this is the case, but speculated that it could be a result of employees no longer having to commute to Washington DC or because they are more relaxed at home, the Federal Times reported.

Meanwhile, Gary Washington, CIO of the Department of Agriculture, said that productivity hadn’t dropped. On 19 May, during an American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council webinar, he said that the department was preparing for a different kind of work environment. “We will see what that is, but we have proven that it is possible to support” telework in the future, he added.  

Phased transition

Earlier this month, the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) published a notice stating that the federal government would begin a “phased transition” to normal working operations, in line with guidelines unveiled by President Trump in April to ‘open up America again’. 

The OPM notice makes clear that federal government agencies will make operating decisions based on state or local lockdown rules, alongside other factors. For example, government buildings may begin to reopen in some states where lockdown measures are being relaxed, while remaining closed in states where tighter restrictions remain in place.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

2 Comments

  1. K

    26/05/2020 at

    Your “phased transition” to normal working operations, url link is broken the above story.

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