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May 07, 2020

PMA Tech Initiatives Support Rapid Response to COVID-19

By Suzette Kent, Federal Chief Information Officer


This blog was first posted on on May 7th, 2020.

Successfully transitioning a workforce as large as the Federal Government’s to telework while maintaining a high level of service continuity is no easy task. In response to the Coronavirus global pandemic, many Federal Government services have utilized capabilities included in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) to quickly embrace an environment of maximum digital engagement to continue meeting the mission and service expectations for their agency. The CIO Community has provided guidance to federal agencies on how to leverage digital tools that support their workforce, deploy resources, and expand critical services to help meet the needs of citizens and businesses.

In response to the mandate to minimize person-to-person contact, agencies were challenged to implement agile methods in real-time and rethink the delivery of public-facing services. As of today, the Federal Government is open and operating at the highest sustained level of telework in history. Virtual platforms and digital signatures are being used to process transactions and facilitate virtual onboarding and offboarding. People who began 2020 with no knowledge of “collaboration tools” are now adept at video conferencing and screen sharing with team members.

The ability to rapidly pivot and transition to this highly digital environment is possible because of recent investments in modern technology, robust and scalable commercial tools, data management practices, cybersecurity enhancements, and automation. The investments and outcomes achieved under the PMA positioned the executive agencies to be responsive and resilient in this unprecedented call to action.

Response Efforts to Embrace Full-Time Telework

  • The Treasury Department created a “Get My Payment” application to inform taxpayers on the status of their Economic Impact Payment. The application went live on April 15, 2020 and has had over 368 million visits to date.

  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) created new intake portals and expanded existing cloud-based solutions support tools for borrowers and lenders. This included launching Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs for economic impact due to COVID-19 and implementing the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) within one week. Through May 1, SBA has approved over $500 billion in PPP loans to support payroll costs for borrowers impacted by COVID-19.

Response Efforts to Maintain Mission Focus

While many agencies had urgent demands for response actions, maintaining mission continuity in a maximum telework environment was also a high priority.

  • Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the National Science Foundation are supporting over 95% of personnel in a telework environment.

  • Over the course of five days, the Department of Education completely re-architected its Personal Identity Verification (PIV) authentication, laptop issuance, and Virtual Private Network capacity. When the PIV offices began to close, the Department was able to continue onboarding employees seamlessly and transition workforce with expiring PIVs to the alternate solution without the need for in-person contact.

  • The Department of State implemented virtual onboarding of new employees including virtual badging, oath taking, providing computer credentials, and mandatory new hire training. The department moved the IT Service Desk to remote operations, enabling IT Service Center attendants to take support calls from home using a distributed Automated Call Distribution system. This enabled rapidly ramped up collaboration suites, WebEx and Microsoft Teams, to log over one million meeting minutes within these applications by the end of March.

Response Efforts to Leverage Data

The Federal Data Strategy has enabled the government to better curate, use, and share operational data as agencies were asked to disperse funds for the economy, collaborate with industry to understand and fight an invisible enemy, gain visibility to a complex supply chain, and protect those who are most vulnerable in our populations.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created a system called HHS PROTECT that pulls together an ecosystem of over 200 datasets. PROTECT provides a common operating picture of the spread, impact, and behavior of the virus so members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force can analyze policy options with data insights. The system was established in nine days to support White House Coronavirus Task Force efforts to manage the response to COVID-19.

  • Multiple agencies have reported leveraging data and Artificial Intelligence to ramp up and inform their COVID-19 response-related actions.

  • Facilitating large-scale data analysis amongst agencies and within public-private partnerships has also been of great public value, such as the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, made up of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and private sector companies.

In normal times and extraordinary times, the most important element of government is the people who comprise our workforce. While technology and processes were able to pivot because of the investments that have been made, the key to the government’s success is people continuing to embrace a change in how they work and deliver services. This demand to leverage technology and data to achieve mission outcomes will last long after response to any specific situation, and should remain a constant goal. This crisis will pass but we must hold on to the advances made as we move forward. The PMA will continue to provide that path forward and I am looking forward to continuing that journey with all of you.

This post is the first among a series highlighting how the President’s Management Agenda is contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic response. Due to our collective focus on the federal COVID-19 response, some of the next steps planned for the PMA have been suspended. However, we will continue to feature the many ways agencies are leveraging PMA initiatives during these unprecedented times, and regular Quarterly Reporting on the PMA will resume at the end of June. Follow along on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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