This month marks the first anniversary for the American Technology Council (ATC), which was created by President Trump via Executive Order (EO) on May 1 of last year.  In the year that followed, ATC has held summits and meetings with industry leaders, and released a lengthy report to the president. In honor of its first birthday, MeriTalk is taking a look back at the ATC’s first year–as well as examining what the future might hold for the council.

The ATC was established to promote the secure, efficient, and economical use of information technology across the Federal government. In the EO, Trump tasked the council with helping to transform and modernize the Federal government’s information technology and improve how it uses and delivers digital services.

ATC’s Creation

When Trump moved into the White House last year, he set up a variety of advisory boards and councils–covering everything from manufacturing to policy development–that were full of government and industry leaders. However, ATC is different. Its 19 members are exclusively government officials–no Silicon Valley execs in sight. In addition to the president and the vice president, the council includes high level cabinet members, senior White House advisors, and Federal technology leaders. This difference from other advisory boards is a good thing in the eyes of Jonathan Alboum, CTO, U.S. Public Sector, Veritas Technologies.

“I prefer a government-only team for the ATC,” Alboum said. “This supports a vendor-neutral approach to a government-wide technology strategy. Once defined, there are many groups/associations where industry and government officials can come together to collaborate on best practices before implementing strategy.”

The IT Modernization Report

In December 2017, ATC released its greatest accomplishment to date–the Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization. The lengthy report focuses on modernization efforts to improve the security posture of Federal IT.

It essentially functions as a plan that incorporates government stakeholders to identify ways for the government to enhance its cybersecurity posture, modernize the Federal IT enterprise, and create a more robust partnership between government and industry.

When developing the report, ATC looked outside of the government for input. ATC said it “convened top private and public sector leaders to elicit and incorporate input on the vision for the future of Federal IT.”

Admittedly, it’s only been seven months since the report was released. However, MeriTalk wanted to evaluate whether the administration is advancing on the goals and initiatives laid out in the report.

“I believe that they are making good progress to advance goals and strategies laid out in the report, starting with the creation of the Centers of Excellence (COE) being run by GSA,” Alboum said. “For example, the IT Infrastructure Modernization COE will be determining government-wide strategies that will help protect data and move it to a more secure, consistent, and automated environment. Prior to this, without overarching guidance, agencies adopted multiple approaches to infrastructure, which has created undue complexity in multi-cloud environments. Standardized approaches may pay big dividends as the government shares data across multiple departments and begins to grapple with challenging data management, issues such as the General Data Protection Regulation.”

Looking Forward

While year one may be in the books, ATC has plenty more work to do. The push for IT modernization is spreading like wildfire–from passage of the MGT Act to the President’s Management Agenda which pushes for an increased focus on evolving legacy systems and developing a strong tech workforce. But what should ATC focus on in the coming year?

For starters, the administration is working on a new cyber strategy that it expects to release later this month. ATC is involved in its development and will likely be involved in the push behind getting agencies to comply with new best practices and requirements.

On top of the new strategy, Alboum suggests ATC focus on implementing data-level protections.

“A cornerstone of the IT Modernization Report is to apply security protections at a level which are commensurate with the sensitivity of the data,” he said. “This is key to modernizing high value assets. The report also directs agencies to improve security through encryption of data at rest and in transit, and emphasizes data-level protection to drive a layered security architecture that will help accelerate commercial cloud adoption. Data protection is the key to future IT Modernization initiatives as the administration continues towards its digital transformation goals.”

Much like Rome, IT modernization won’t be built in a day. However, with its 61-page report to the president, ATC has laid solid groundwork to help bring the Federal government into the 21st Century.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.