Department of Agriculture (USDA) CIO Gary Washington is crediting the agency’s modernization efforts for smooth service delivery and mass telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s also saying that the agency isn’t slowing down its transformation efforts as it looks toward a post-pandemic future.

Washington listed several modernization efforts, such as security operations consolidation and smarter methods for patching and maintaining devices, that the agency embraced in the lead up to the pandemic.

“The security operations consolidation was a success,” he said at the October 6 FCW IT Modernization Summit, “and it allowed us to have more insight into how we can be stronger in our cybersecurity posture during remote work.” The end user consolidation activities were also an effort to improve security of the agency’s network environment, he added.

USDA, according to the CIO, also embraced committing to hardware purchases through blanket purchase agreements and promoting application rationalization in its modernization journey. Washington said that the blanket purchase agreements allowed USDA to efficiently and consistently get hardware and software necessary for telework to employees across the country and application rationalization streamlined a move to the cloud.

While these efforts set USDA up for success during the pandemic, Washington said that the agency still has a way to go, namely in cybersecurity where he said the agency needs to be more vigilant.

“Through this pandemic, we have modernized exponentially in the cybersecurity arena,” he said, “and it’s brought our attention to some practices that we can implement moving forward that will allow us to be even more secure than we’ve been before.”

Washington continued that he’s also excited about future modernization projects such as what Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) will help the agency achieve. Through EIS, he said, “We have a plan to significantly increase the number of networks that we have, and take advantage of modern technologies to be able to be more secure, and to increase the amount of performance even to the person that’s on the phone out in rural America.”

In the near future, USDA is also considering automation, AI, and machine learning to reduce human contact throughout the rest of the pandemic, according to Washington.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.