CMMC, cybersecurity, acquisition initiatives made the federal IT community take notice

The top 10 Reporter’s Notebook stories in 2021 demonstrated the popularity of topics ranging from IT modernization to cybersecurity to large contract vehicles...

There may be no better feeling than when a bunch of tidbits from assorted events, interviews and releases all come together to create a story. I imagine it’s like a sculptor with a lot of extra pieces lying around their studio, having that moment of clarity of how their next piece of art will come together.

It’s been nine years since I launched this feature and I still surprise myself nearly every week with how stories come together. The federal and industry experts and sources who provide me immeasurable support, insights and ideas that form the notebook hopefully have an impact on the three “Ps” of the federal government: Policy, people and programs.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at

The 2021 list shows the continued churn across the federal IT and acquisition communities with many of the same topics emerging as most popular in 2021.

See how these 10 compared to 2020’s top notebook stories.

Here are the top 10 Reporter’s Notebook stories in 2021.

1. CMMC update: Pilots, 3PAOs and more of what vendors need to know

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification was probably the most watched, talked-about and criticized topic of 2021. Vendors, the Defense Department and civilian agency readers alike had an insatiable appetite for the latest details about one of the biggest changes in the federal community in decades. While the CMMC Advisory Board received its fair share of criticism, some of it deserving and some not, its monthly town hall meetings provided important updates during the early stages of the program.

2. These 7 agencies will be looking for new CIOs next week

Every four years, this story emerges and rightfully so. The fact is people like people news. Nearly a year after tallying up the CIOs who will be leaving, it’s good to see that that number of open CIO positions at CFO Act agencies is down to two, with the Senate confirming the last two political CIOs, Veterans Affairs CIO Kurt DelBene and DoD CIO John Sherman, in the last few weeks. Only the departments of Health and Human Services, and Interior have acting CIOs.

3. Technology Modernization Fund on track to receive biggest pay day ever

The build up to the eventual $1 billion allocation to the TMF energized the federal IT community. Many vendors, who still do not quite understand how the TMF works, and agencies, many of which are frustrated today by the slow roll out of the funding, were excited to see lawmakers finally buying in with real funding to address the ever-growing technical debt the government faces. The TMF will continue to be one of the biggest story lines of 2022.

4. GSA kick starts 2021 with an acquisition potpourri

This is the type of story that the Reporter’s Notebook was made for. Individually, none of these items were worth their own article, but when you see a trend and pull all the pieces together, you have an important and valuable news story. The General Services Administration met many of its acquisition goals in 2021 with the award of ASTRO and initial awards under 8(a) STARS III. The Polaris governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC) and the continued development of the services marketplace will be among the big story lines of 2022.

5. DHS, NSA creating reusable pieces to zero trust foundation

Months before President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating the move to zero trust, the buzz around this latest cyber construct was accelerating to its zenith. This story resonated with the audience because it was two real examples of zero trust in the proverbial wild. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were on the leading edge a year ago. Today, NSA and DHS are among the many agencies that are figuring out how to pull these zero trust tools and concepts together to better protect their systems, people and data.

6. DoD planning to create big data platform to better understand supply chain risks

One of the other important roles the notebook plays is shedding some light on federal initiatives that, in this case, the Defense Department failed to do. DoD plans to build a big data platform for supply chain information. It wanted industry feedback on some ideas and what capabilities are potentially available and decided, for whatever reason, to only ask a small group of vendors. It was surprising the number of companies who asked me for the RFI, demonstrating that more transparency should always be the rule not the exception.

7. Obituary: GSA’s Rob Coen

The passing of Rob Coen was one of the saddest parts of 2021. There were so many people who learned about Coen’s death via this notebook item. There isn’t much to say about this, or really any other untimely death, just that we were better off knowing Coen and will continue to miss him.

8. CISA’s still overcoming challenges 5 years after Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act became law

This was a story from 2020 that snuck back into the top 10 for 2021. Of course cybersecurity remained one of the hottest topics last year and with all the discussion around threat intelligence, public-private partnerships and the like, it’s no surprise readers were looking for the latest update on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s efforts to improve cyber information sharing.

9. Data remains biggest obstacle to meeting 2023 deadline for TBM

Technology Business Management standards couldn’t be considered a hot topic in 2021. The Office of Management and Budget nor the CIO Council released new guidance or playbooks to put TBM on agencies’ radars. But just when you thought TBM was possibly being put on the back shelf, OMB began to address one of the biggest challenges of a successful TBM implementation: Data. This common obstacle for CIOs, CFOs and other budget formulation experts is part of the reason this story made it into the top 10.

10. Industry’s patience wearing thin with DoD’s CMMC, GSA’s follow-on to OASIS

This story generated probably the most feedback, and frustration, of any notebook item in 2021. Usually letters to agencies are blasé, a dime a dozen and don’t ever amount to any real change. But these associations captured the frustrations of industry around two major initiatives where more discussion, communications and transparency would always be better than less. CMMC and the new services multiple award contract from GSA will remain big story lines to follow in 2022.

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