Experts hope next administration will take advantage of data-driven innovations

Incoming presidential administrations have no dearth of advice, and ACT-IAC wants the next administration to take advantage of data driven technology innovation...

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Incoming presidential administrations have no dearth of advice. The American Council for Technology Industry Advisory Council better known as ACT-IAC wants the next administration to take advantage of data driven technology innovations, to take government service delivery to the next level. It’s published what it calls Agenda 2021, detailing these ideas. For more, Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to ACT-IAC CEO Dave Wennergren and the leader of its Presidential Election Project, the MITRE Corporation’s Jim Cook.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: So my first question is, how can ACT-IAC advice gets through even given all of the organizations and the interest groups in the industries that flood around incoming administrations?

Dave Wennergren: Right, everyone in town has an opinion when it comes to elections. And we’re no exception to that. I do feel though that our unique position, having thousands of industry executives and thousands of government executives actively involved in our organization gives us the ability to send a message out to a number of people. And that’s probably an important place to start, in that our work is not just for the candidates themselves. And it’s not just for the incoming political appointees, although they are key audience for us. It’s also for the government executives, the career executives, that have to navigate through transition, as well as the broader industry base and all the rest of the folks that are involved in the federal market. And so regardless of outcome from an election, whether it’s a second term for President Trump or a new administration, for President Biden, there are crucial initiatives must continue on regardless of the change. And when new people show up, they tend to want to do their new things, and they need to have that space. But they also need to have pertinent advice on what are the issues that sort of transcend politics? And regardless of, you know, party, there are certain key things we need to continue, certain things we should stop, and then a bunch of new stuff that we need to get moving on.

Tom Temin: All right, Jim, tell us the methodology by which you came up with recommendations, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But how did you get there?

Jim Cook: Sure. Thanks, Tom. Well, it started with, first of all the development of what we refer to as the Capstone paper, which I think I’ve spoken with you and your audience before about when we released that late in July – “Delivering Outcomes, Building Trust.” And that was really a collaborative effort with eight senior individuals, many of whom are known to your audience, who have served a number of different administrations, both Republican and Democratic. People like Alan Balutis, Dan Chenok, Robert Shea, Casey Coleman, Kathy Conrad, Mark Forman, and Dave McClure, Richard Spires. So they came up with a content in the capstone paper to think about this problem a bit more strategically. And in that paper, we identified three areas in which we felt collectively that delivering better outcomes would help serve the public and also build trust in government. Those three topics were improving customer experience and transforming service delivery; transforming infrastructure and managing risk; and accelerating agility in government. And as you can imagine, these are actually quite interrelated. And then, in terms of the methodology, where we ended up going after that, after that first paper was developed was that sub teams were formed amongst this steering committee that I just mentioned, and they engaged experts from the ACT-IAC community from the communities of interest to help develop the content for these three papers, which we’ve just released this week, on each one of those three topics. So it was really a collaborative effort. But it was driven largely by the talent and experience and insight of those eight people that I mentioned, who serve both in government and in the private sector.

Tom Temin: And I guess we should point out that ACT-IAC, by the way its very nature is formed as an organization, you could draw on not just industry, but also government and industry in equal numbers and an equal equivalent ranks almost.

Jim Cook: That’s correct. That’s right.

Tom Temin: All right. And how will this information? How will this type of advice get to the eyes of the people that you hope to see it, the incoming teams, whoever they might be?

Dave Wennergren: Well, in one sense by talking to esteemed individuals like yourself, and helping to get the word out –

Tom Temin: Or at least individuals.

Dave Wennergren: And a number of other things. So of course, we have provided all of our content to both parties, both campaign teams, and so that’s the initial foray. But the real play I think, is over the year ahead. Because again, regardless of election outcome, there will be a huge transition, huge turnover, people you’ve already seen, the federal CIO Suzette Kent has left, lots of people go regardless of the election outcome and get replaced. And that replacement takes place over months and months and months. And so you have a number of career executives who have to sort of manage that space, and then the eventual incoming of new and more political appointees. And so what we imagine is that there’s a continuing dialogue that takes place through a series of papers and events and engagements broadly across the community to help make sure that these messages are resonating as people come on board.

Tom Temin: We’re Speaking with Dave Wennegren, he’s the CEO of ACT-IAC, and with Jim Cook, the project leader of the ACT-IAC Presidential Election Project. And Jim, what are some of the specific things that you are saying that need to be moved along a little bit because all of these areas – customer experience, infrastructure, updating, and risk management and agility – are on the agenda and have been really since a couple of administrations. What will move this forward?

Jim Cook: So there’s a few things. Each of these topics actually has a separate set of recommendations, five per topic. So rather than trying to go through that list, I would highlight a couple of things that I think are key takeaways from this. First of all, while technology is an important aspect, in all three cases, the technology itself largely exists. And in each case, in each paper, we’ve identified progress that’s already been made, and some examples where the things that are being recommended or being done, but I would say that there’s a couple of areas where more can be done to accelerate the progress. One is in the area policy. In one paper, there’s an interesting story about some agencies that really tackled some aspects of the pandemic response. And in each case, it was policy changes that needed to be made in order to – quickly – in order for them to be able to do the things that they needed to do. So for instance, policy changes were enacted quickly, to allow agencies to accept digital signatures and to use secure email to submit documents needed to obtain services. So now that that’s been done, one of the recommendations is just keep those – in place. Why go back to where we were when, in fact, what this situation has revealed is that the policies themselves can be the barriers? Another thing that will help accelerate progress in several of these areas, especially in agile government and customer experience, is to embed goals and measures for customer experience, and improving customer experience in performance metrics at all levels of the organization. Oftentimes, in the case of customer experience, we confuse customer experience with customer service. But everybody in an agency actually contributes to the customer experience. The person designing the application, they think about how that application is going to be used both internally and externally. They’re contributing to the customer experience. And so customer experience is an agency enterprise-wide responsibility. Agility is an agency enterprise-wide responsibility at all levels. So embed those kind of metrics in people’s performance measures, recognize and reward people that contribute in significant and positive ways. That’ll help accelerate progress, because there is a cultural dimension to this as well. So those are some examples of some things that are addressed throughout the recommendations or common themes or threads that run throughout many of the recommendations in all three of these reports.

Tom Temin: A couple of things that happened in the last few days, or a couple of weeks strike me as really having relevance here. One is, the new cohort of Presidential Innovation Fellows, has just been fielded within the last couple of days. So they’re going to hit the ground just as the administration changes, by the way they find their way around the agencies and get to work. So there could be some policy change, perhaps and some performance metrics that they will deal with and could be even more effective. And you can tell me, if you agree. Secondly, a report came from Forrester, which ranks customer experience at the federal level a tiny bit higher than the year before but way below industry and having a long way to go with a big range from fair to lousy. So it seems like the timing is really good for giving this a little bit of a slingshot effect. Dave?

Dave Wennergren: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, if you think about it, that these underlying issues that are in the capstone paper about how if we focus on outcomes, we will have a far better conversation, right, because we so often get liquored up about the shiny object of the IT system rather than the outcome that’s going to be achieved. And trust has been declining across our society and with government for years and years. And as Jim pointed out, there’s is interdependency about, the more closely you engage with your customers, the more you’re helping to build that trust, the more you’re focusing on the outcomes that matter. And so there is a really super synergy here. And the customer experience thing has to be addressed. And you’re right, any organizational group, the Innovation Fellows, you know, the career executives, the incoming politicals everyone has to help pull together here. And there are so many opportunities as we as we address this sort of post-pandemic, new normal that we face. You know, if anything, it speaks to this acceleration of the use of technology in our life, the imperative for digital transformation, the need to do more with IT modernization than just do the infrastructure but also address the legacy systems, new cybersecurity approaches, a greater use of data. And you know, if you summarize that all together is this move with speed, move with agility and be focused on resiliency.

Tom Temin: And Jim, will you stick with the project even though it’s officially over and you go back to MITRE – you’re gonna keep your eye on this one?

Jim Cook: Yes, I am. I fully intend to. This project in the ACT-IAC community is being led by the Institute for Innovation. And I serve as the chair this year for that Institute. So I fully expect and intend to continue with the team throughout the remainder of this year, and hopefully have opportunities to engage with people currently in government and those that may enter into government after the election to work with folks to understand how to adopt some of these recommendations and build off of the progress that’s already being made in many of these areas.

Dave Wennergren: I’m so glad that that’s what Jim said, because we have many miles to go before we sleep it I’m delighted to be on this journey with him.

Tom Temin: All right. Dave Wennergren is CEO of ACT-IAC. Jim Cook is vice president for strategic engagement at MITRE Corporation and project leader of the ACT-IAC Presidential Election Project. Thanks to you both.

Dave Wennegren and Jim Cook: Great to be with you, Tom. Great to be with you, thank you.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at along with links to all of the group’s output. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.

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