Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said May 21 that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will leave the federal government “rethinking" many processes that were once required to occur in person.

"This is something that we will continue to consider for quite a while,” Kent said during a keynote at the Adobe Digital Government Symposium.

She added later: “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."

According to Kent, several agencies have 95 percent of their workforce working from home, inspiring several changes at agencies. Digital signatures are one example. Kent said digital signatures are used for on-boarding, off-boarding and for official documents, including those of senior leaders within the government.

Kent also highlighted that the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs shifted from in-person interviews to phone interviews. She added that many agencies also have COVID-19 information “easily accessible” on their websites, following similar templates, and said that interagency data sharing has increased to ensure agencies are on the same page.

“Many agencies are thinking about previously on-site activities and ways that they can now use digital tools to spread those across a distributed workforce,” Kent said.

Kent, the top IT official in the federal government, also confirmed what several Cabinet-level agency CIOs have said in recent weeks: that productivity hasn’t dropped since telework began about two months ago. Earlier this week, Department of Transportation CIO Ryan Cote said on a webinar that productivity at his agency has actually increased. Many department CIOs have been surprised by the spike in demand for collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams and other platforms, and have expanded the availability of those platforms.

“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,” Kent said.

The government’s ability to maintain its delivery of services and efficiency with a scattered workforce will drive decisions in the future, she said.

“That gives us real data and real feedback — not ‘what if’ scenarios. Federal teams can now reconsider what their physical footprint needs to look like," Kent said. "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.”

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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