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Data, Digital Services Will Drive Federal IT in 2023

Health and civilian agencies expect to build off progress to improve health equity, smarter IT acquisitions and better customer experience through digital services.

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Data, Digital Services Will Drive Federal IT in 2023
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Health and civilian federal agencies worked to modernize operations and drive better data-driven decision-making in 2022. Guided by strategic planning, agencies are poised to make big leaps in their cyber, customer experience (CX), climate, and health equity efforts in 2023. Learn more about how some of the biggest stories of 2022 will carry forth this year.

Digital Services

President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14058, Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery To Rebuild Trust in Government, formally established CX as a guiding star across government, and IT has a major role to play. Agencies, particularly High Impact Service Providers (HISPs), committed to raising the standard of experience through their digital service delivery.

A critical part of the digital transformation process starts with developing a CX mindset within the federal workforce. Much like the revolutionary DevSecOps framework in cybersecurity, government is working to establish CX priorities early on in the product development process. Department of Labor CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said CX should be “baked into the cake,” not the “icing on top.”

Government has not always excelled in digital service delivery, and incidents such as the failed launch of the health care marketplace damaged the public’s expectations for federal services. But historic investments in CX are making a difference, and this year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made record-breaking enrollment numbers.

At the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer Ken Corbin developed a strategic plan to improve CX driven by two core principles: choice and access. Major expansions are coming to IRS’s digital services, including a new online account program for individual taxpayers, taxpayer professionals, and businesses. Leaders are also taking a closer look at the business process, automation, recruiting and retention, and data analytics to continuously modernize technology and improve digital services.

As agencies work to improve customer experiences in 2023, leaders will leverage data to inform decisions and identify gaps in service. At the Department of Education, the Federal Student Aid office is relying on user feedback to guide the overhaul of its digital services. Meanwhile, at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), researchers are studying best practices for the continued integration of telehealth in cancer care. Across government, 2023 will be another major year for CX development.

Transforming Health Data Exchange

In 2022, the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) worked with agencies to transform data sharing by building a foundation for interoperability. Its U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI+) is a standardized set of health data classes for a nationwide, interoperable health information exchange.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) named interoperability a top priority for 2022 and aims to publish a department-wide data strategy in the near future. The strategy will target improved data-sharing and stronger data security and privacy, as well as enhanced data governance. Meanwhile, the CMS is leveraging USCDI+ and FHIR-based APIs to advance digital quality measurement. ONC has also been supporting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Data Modernization Initiative, among other efforts to streamline data collection.

In August 2022, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and ONC announced a joint effort to align HRSA’s Uniform Data System with ONC’s in order to transition to patient-level reporting requirements. This initiative will help advance health equity, streamline operations and improve data-driven decision-making for better health outcomes.

Data standardization plays an important role in helping the Biden-Harris administrations meet its executive orders on advancing racial equity and driving data-driven decision making in public health. In 2022, ONC released USCDI V3, which added new data classes to promote health equity, including health status, accessibility and health insurance information.

The Road to Health Equity

The pandemic exposed stark inequities in health care systems and also presented the opportunity to address them head-on. As an administrative priority, health equity took center stage in the federal government, and 2023 will be a major year for agencies to advance their goals.

Advancing health equity is a pillar of CMS’ strategic planning, which depends on data. Across the federal health space, data standardization will play a key role in meeting the Biden-Harris administration’s equity goals. ONC is helping agencies align interoperability standards and establish common data classes to understand health disparities.

While the onset of the pandemic placed immense pressure on healthcare systems, it also spurred advances in new technologies. Telehealth, if carefully integrated, wields the power to expand healthcare access, an opportunity under study at the National Cancer Institute and at HRSA’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth. A HRSA research center published a paper in 2022 to help establish a common set of digital health, eHealth, mHealth and telehealth language, which also helps HHS’s data collection and future research.

Advancing health equity is an internal effort as well as an external one. Many organizations are taking a look at their recruitment and retention practices in order to build a workforce representative of the American public. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) teased what comes next in its series of modernization action plans: the “LMAP,” focused on leadership, which is targeting a 2023 release. This map will articulate the FDA’s vision for an inclusive, diverse and highly talented leadership pipeline.

2023 also marks the launch of GovCIO Media & Research’s newest initiative: our Health Tech Equity working group. This working group brings together experts from across government to tackle some of the biggest questions today on how we can close care gaps and improve health outcomes. Stay tuned for special reports and more to come from this program.

Growing Cyber Talent, Partnerships

The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are laser-focused on building partnerships and recruiting cyber talent to mitigate evolving threats and secure U.S. critical infrastructure.

Alaina R. Clark, Assistant Director for Stakeholder Engagement at CISA, said the need for collaborative approach can’t be overstated in 2023.

CISA also released its 2023-2025 Stategic Plan in September 2022, which highlights building the national capacity to defend against and recover from cyberattacks as a major goal, as well as working with federal partners to bolster cybersecurity postures.

Another top priority for 2023 will be unifying the agency through its workforce. CISA will have a significant budget and new authorities to invest in its people by building a culture of excellence based on core values and principles.

Recruiting and retaining cyber talent is a big challenge for the FBI and other agencies to overcome in 2023. Shawn Devroude, Deputy Assistant Director at the FBI’s Cyber Division, said the agency has evolved its approach to recruiting cyber and technical talent through three major efforts.

First, the FBI is establishing cyber squads in 56 field offices ready to tackle any type of cyber issue. Second, the FBI is coordinating on a Cyber Talent Initiative, a multi-year project to address novel ways of staffing. This initiative will look at pay structures, recruitment efforts, and culture. As part of this effort, the FBI also put together a task force to unify stakeholders. Lastly, the FBI is offering an accelerated cyber training program in Huntsville, Alabama, among other efforts to build a cyber-active workforce that can deploy anywhere.

NIH Harnessing Cloud to Democratize Data

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) continued to build off its Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative in 2022, a prime example of how researchers are being enabled to share and use data in the cloud. A new version of the STRIDES Initiative is expected to be released in summer 2023.

Cloud also played a key role in data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will help NIH be better prepared for public health crises in the future.

Dr. Susan Gregurick, Director of the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy, said the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) has been collecting data only related to COVID-19 from multiple locations and putting it all on a single platform in the cloud.

Gregurick also believes NIH’s upcoming data management policy, which goes into effect Jan. 25, 2023, will lead to a widespread culture change. The strategy will require researchers to plan for how they’re going to manage and share their data.

According to Gregurick, data-sharing should be the default and it should be maximized to the best of its ability. NIH anticipates researchers will share the data and results from their scientific endeavors so their research will be reproduceable even if the data is not published.

The Future of Climate-Conscious Acquisition

At the end of 2022, a proposed rule requiring major federal government suppliers to report greenhouse gas emissions, climate risks and reduction targets sparked debate across the federal space. If finalized as written, the rule would bring climate-related risks to the forefront of federal agencies’ procurement decisions, and the requirements would represent a significant new burden for federal contractors. This rule is a key part of the Biden Administration’s sustainability goals.

A series of executive orders laid out President Biden’s mission to achieve net-zero federal carbon emissions by 2050. Biden’s Executive Order on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability called upon GSA to leverage the government’s purchasing power to promote climate-conscious acquisition.

General Services Administration Administrator Robin Carnahan called buying green a “triple win” in 2022.

“Not only is it good for the environment and the health of our planet and our kids, it’s great for creating jobs in America, and it’s great for saving tax money on lower energy costs,” she said.

Together, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act have already delivered historic investments in sustainability. Over the next five years, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will stand up 60 new programs at the Department of Energy. DOE will be partnering with states, communities, and industry to move the US economy toward clean energy and lower carbon emissions by strengthening the nation’s outdated energy infrastructure.

As part of this work, DOE will also focus on equity and reaching underserved communities. Under President Joe Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, 40% of federal investments in climate and clean energy have been directed to benefit communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.

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