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USPTO, HHS OIG Tackling CX, Zero Trust, Equity Directives

Federal CIOs see the executive mandates as north stars for their internal strategies.

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Since the Biden administration has entered the White House, new priority areas have included cybersecurity, customer experience and equity, all of which are having substantial impacts across federal IT strategies.

During Tuesday’s ATARC GITEC event, the CIOs of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General highlighted how they’re working to strengthen these elements of their organizations.

Though White House executive orders provide guidance for agencies, it’s really up to agency leadership to determine how to implement the policy and protocol to meet them, noted USPTO CIO Jamie Holcombe. On the customer experience front, USPTO is working to streamline inventor and entrepreneur engagement through improved digital services.

“We can’t accept the mediocrity of filling out forms and being a faceless government,” Holcombe said. “Be out there. Don’t create websites throughout your organization that nearly replicate the bureaucracy so it’s easier for you to do your job. That’s not it. Government workers have a solemn duty to look at the whole workflow … and say, ‘Well look, what makes it better for the applicant online to do this?’”

At HHS OIG, CIO Gerald Caron takes a similar approach. Caron noting that part of the agency’s work is ensuring that medical services are reliable and overseeing proper and effective use of funding. A key piece of this is ensuring secure yet accessible use of data, making effective cybersecurity measures a critical focus area.

“When we talk about about the right data at the right people at the right time, people argue with me [and they] think it’s about identity,” Caron said. “No, it’s got to be driven by what are they trying to access? That’s the data. If you get compromised, what’s the cybersecurity?”

Caron is also an advocate of the White House executive order on zero trust. He said while it’s important to meet Federal Information Security Management Act requirements, there’s room to grow and apply the guidance from the order to develop stronger tactics and processes to make security more robust.

Holcombe noted that certain security and privacy measures can also serve as a boon for stakeholders like people applying for patents and trademarks. USPTO, for instance, omits names from the application process to avoid bias that examiners may have when they view the applicant name, helping ensure that the approval process is better for stakeholders while also protecting sensitive information.

“We have to really protect those things that need to be protected so bias is not introduced into the process,” Holcombe said.

For bias prevention, Holcombe and Caron also highlighted recent executive requirements to strategize diversity, equity and inclusion.

Holcombe highlighted that his office is adopting artificial intelligence and working to prevent algorithmic bias. USPTO’s new director, Kathi Vidal, has entered her position zeroing in on equity and diversity across the agency, especially in STEM.

Caron added that he also values ensuring that all stakeholders and members of his team feel represented across their work, explaining that diverse values and ideas make his work environment more robust.

“One of the cultural things that I want is everybody [to have] a voice,” Caron said. “I want to hear from everybody in one form or fashion because they all have different backgrounds, they all have different perspectives, and I think that’s the same thing for diversity and inclusion — is make sure that you’re being inclusive of everybody … You’ll never know when you turn over a rock, there’s a great thing that you’re going to find.”

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