Citizens Expect Better Service from the Government, Federal CIO Says

Technology advances may be enticing, but agencies must upgrade to the 21st century first, says Suzette Kent.

While exciting new advances in technology happen almost daily, Federal CIO Suzette Kent said that government agencies need to stay focused on a more immediate goal: modernization.

“I wish I could stand here and talk only about innovation,” she said at IBM’s Think Gov 2018 on Thursday in Washington, D.C. “But we still have so many things to do to be current in the 21st century.”

The President’s Management Agenda, released by the White House on March 20, provides agencies with a tactical list of what needs to be done to modernize, referred to as Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals. Specifically, the goals are to modernize IT, create transparency and accountability to the public and ensure the federal workforce has the proper skills and mindset to meet an evolving government mission.

Don’t think of these things in isolation,” Kent said. “Think of them as multiple capabilities that you bring together to best serve the unique mission of your agency.”

And that mission, she said, is to provide the best customer service and to use taxpayer money wisely. Citizens have grown used to speedy, online service from businesses, and they should get the same from government.

Data Is a High Value Asset for Federal Government

When Kent took the job as CIO, she said, she was presented — much to her surprise — with a thick stack of actual paper forms to fill out.

“That’s not the type of experience most of you expect, or that many of our citizens expect in any other part of their life,” she said. “The bar is high around those services.”

As agencies work to improve customer service through modernization, she said, there’s another aspect of technology to consider: the vast amounts of data collected and created by the federal government.

“Data is the highest-value asset we have,” she said. “The federal government has the best data in the world. We can solve problems using that data, but we have to address basic things around the hygiene, the principles of sharing and a fierce protection of privacy.

“The way that we are approaching that is by creating a long-term strategy, a strategy that will hopefully last [into the next administration],” she said. And that is why, while modernizing government technology is a big job, Kent also wants agencies to think even bigger, past their own offices and deep into the future.

“The agenda is just not a trendy idea of the current administration — it’s actually an American imperative to manage our collective risk and fiercely protect our future,” she said.

Jirapong Manustrong/Getty Images
May 25 2018