The advent of new leadership in the White House and the still-unfolding impact of the Russia-backed hack of thousands of government and private-sector networks via SolarWinds Orion products are leading to a fresh consideration of options to improve Federal cybersecurity, panelists said on Feb. 9 at the Resiliency Colloquium event organized by MeriTalk, ACT-IAC, and the Partnership for Public Service.

Former Federal CIO Tony Scott, who moderated a panel discussion on cybersecurity, explained that the China-based hack of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) records came to light early in his tenure in 2015, and “caused us to look around and say what else do we need to worry about.”

Sean Connelly, who manages the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) program at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), recalled that the government’s response to the OPM hack included a burst of activity from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on improving security. “A lot of the discussions we are having across the Federal government echo some of those same tenets,” he said.

In a general way, Connelly mentioned that security discussions inside government currently include issues such as the surge in Federal teleworking, the use of home networks in that regard, and opportunities presented by cloud services. “A lot of different areas have come together now to move us forward” in a similar way as following the 2015 OPM breach, he said.

He also said Federal agencies in general are more interested in adopting cloud strategies, and discussing how to move high-value assets from legacy systems to the cloud. “Especially with new leadership … these talks are coming up again,” he said.

On the pandemic-response front, panelist Juliana Vida, Chief Technical Advisor, Public Sector at Splunk, said one positive outcome has been to force the government to forge ahead with IT modernization moves that had been on the shelf. “It was a natural breaking down of barriers that agencies had built over time,” she said, adding, that the “government needs to continue to break down those barriers.”

“I’d like to see more of that forward progress,” she said. “Let’s keep the government moving toward a modern future.”

Alex Smith, chief technology officer, Information System Division at the Drug Enforcement Agency, said the government’s experience with 11 months of telework has changed minds about the effectiveness of the practice. “I think that wall has pretty much been knocked down,” he said, adding, “in some situations, we have been able to get a lot more work done.”

“Now that we know people can get the work done, we have to make sure that we have the technology to support it,” he said, including making sure that Federal employees have the right equipment, capabilities, and training to sustain telework.

On the citizen-service side, Vida said the new paradigms forged over the past year can be further leveraged into better service offerings. “Citizens expect that same level of service … and user interaction” with the government that they get through applications for banking and other services on their phones, she said.

“There is no reason that government should not be providing sublime citizen experiences,” Vida said. “Now, leaders can re-invent and say, ‘let’s deliver the services the way we have always wanted to deliver them’ … It’s the art of the possible.”

“We have to spend time celebrating the small things,” advised Margaret Cunningham, Principal Research Scientist for Human Behavior at Forcepoint. “Innovation doesn’t have to be a whole sweeping change,” she said, continuing that bringing younger people into the workforce with new ideas, and encouraging mentorship in organizations are good steps.

She also pointed out that “when you are trying to innovate, there are so many failures in the process,” so organizations need to understand the importance of not succeeding at every attempt.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.