People, agencies, not topics drove the CIO discussions in 2023

There are generally two kinds of agency technology leaders: Those who enjoy and see the benefits of speaking publicly about their agency’s mission, initiatives and accomplishments and those who, for whatever reason whether it’s shyness or agency culture that believes all press is bad press, abstain from the speaking circuit.

That dichotomy of approaches to promoting and celebrating federal efforts played out with exacting precision on Federal News Network’s longest running show – Ask the CIO.

The most popular shows for 2023 featured technology leaders and/or agencies who rarely are on the speaking circuit. And given the fact that the topics themselves aren’t surprising given the rut of cloud, cybersecurity and customer experience that dominated the discussions over the last year, it’s the people and agencies that drove the show.

So as I enter my 16th year hosting the show, the evolution of the show continues to include more non-traditional IT guests, such as acquisition and financial management executives.

Here are the top 10 for 2023:

USCIS has entered the next phase of its IT modernization journey

This was a surprising top show. It came from a panel I moderated at an ATARC event that not only included the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, but also leaders from the Justice Department’s U.S. National Central Bureau of INTERPOL and U.S. Trustees Program and the Agriculture Department. Three of the four agencies that don’t get out in public too often, which I’m sure is part of the reason why this show garnered more than 46,000 views.

CMS taking a three step approach to using more SaaS: Discover, manage, secure

This interview is a perfect example of a perfect technology storm. An agency, in this case the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), that the community doesn’t hear a lot from and a hot topic that nearly every CIO now talks about. In this case, CMS, which isn’t necessarily known for moving fast on IT modernization, opened up about its plans for using and managing software-as-a-service (SaaS).

New top-secret cloud strategy underpins State Dept bureau’s modernization efforts

This show combined two hot topics: cloud and top secret technology modernization. While the federal community hears about cloud services ad nauseam, the use of these technologies in the secret world is not often discussed. One of the highlights from Jimmy Hall, Jr., State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research CIO, focused on his office’s new top secret cloud strategy. Like most intelligence community agencies, we know they have top secret cloud instances and strategies to guide them, but getting someone to talk about it is a glimpse behind the curtain.

DoD’s JWCC memo is a scene setter for the future of cloud

Over the last five years, you couldn’t talk about cloud without talking about the Defense Department’s effort to create an enterprisewide cloud contract. The roll out of the Joint Warfighting Cloud Computing contract (JWCC) continues to draw great interest across the government and industry. The Aug. 10 memo from DoD CIO John Sherman detailing that implementation plan and expectations of the military services piqued the interest of the federal technology community around JWCC over the past year.

Congress, Biden administration continue push to reduce security clearance timeline

Anything that deals with security clearances and the time it takes to process them receives great interest in the federal community beyond just the technology crowd. The last four administrations have made reducing time and complexity a major initiative, so it’s not surprising my panel discussion hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) made the top five programs of the year. The latest data from the Trusted Workforce 2.0 initiative under the President’s Management Agenda shows it takes 71 days on average for a secret clearance, down from 78 days in the previous quarter, and 164 days for a top secret clearance, up from 128 days the previous quarter.

How Farmers.gov really launched USDA’s next generation of cloud services

This is the first of two shows featuring the Agriculture Department. What’s interesting about this one is Casey Cook, the cloud architecture branch chief for USDA, is far from a “usual suspect” speaker, but was more than willing to provide a success story. The use of application programming interfaces (APIs) is another growing piece to the cloud journey and more and more agencies are trying to figure out how to use these small pieces of code to make tools and data integrate more easily.

 USDA leaning harder into software-as-a-service to satisfy mission needs

My interview with Gary Washington, USDA’s CIO, breaks the trend of less heard from agencies and speakers. What made this show break into the top 10 likely was the topic of SaaS. Washington and USDA have been a leader in cloud since the early 2010s so there’s always a lot of interest across the government and community about where the agency is going next.

As Iyer exits, Army CIO’s office holds more influence, authority than ever

Raj Iyer was one of three military service CIOs to leave in 2023. Joining Aaron Weiss from the Navy and Lauren Knausenberger at the Air Force, Iyer’s departure from the Army was not only the first of the trifecta, but also was the first to highlight just how much change came to the services over the last few years.

Air Force applying the ‘Tom Brady effect’ to hiring cyber workers

This interview was more than a year in the making. It was not because Lt. Col. Andrew Wonpat wasn’t willing or interested, it just was a matter of finding the right time for it to happen. Once we did, it turned out not only to be one of the top 10 interviews of the year, but one that I’ve received probably more emails and feedback on than any other. The interest in the story wasn’t surprising given solving the cyber workforce challenges comes up at nearly every conference, in nearly every interview and remains an administration priority.

DHS’ move to agile development to buoy customer experience too

No. 10 on the countdown sums up the year on Ask the CIO in many ways. Large agency (DHS), a CIO who doesn’t speak publicly too often (Eric Hysen) and a hot topic (DevSecOps/CX) all came together in this interview. What stood out to me in these interviews, the second half of the show where I talked to Dana Chisnell, the executive director for customer experience at DHS, about the concrete steps the agency is taking to institutionalize customer experience across all parts and using technology and data to help that effort.

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