Cybersecurity, Modernization Top Priorities for Federal CIOs

Cybersecurity, modernization, H1-B visas, COVID-19 data and analytics. These are a few of the items that are on the agenda for the Biden administration.

Now that the Trump Administration is gone and the Biden Administration is leading the executive branch of the US federal government, will IT organizations within the government notice a difference? What changes can they expect? Will those technology changes make a difference to the technology community beyond the federal government?

One thing is certain — you can expect some significant changes. That’s according to Gartner Senior Research Director Michael Brown who published a research note on what’s expected from the new administration and spoke to InformationWeek in an interview.

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“The swing to the previous administration and the swing to this one are the two largest inflections I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Brown said, adding that he has served in every administration from Carter to Trump, most recently having served as CIO of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before leaving there for Gartner in Sept. 2019.

The Biden administration is hitting the ground running with several executive orders signed in the first few days. Based on those, the administration’s first 100 days plan, and the proposed COVID-19 stimulus package, Brown said federal government IT can expect shifts in immigration policy, climate change, funding for state and local COVID-19 programs with a particular focus on the impact on minority communities, healthcare policy, and police accountability.

The impact of these shifts will be felt in terms of funding as the dial is turned up or turned down for particular agencies, based on the new administration’s priorities. The IT budget for these agencies will be impacted accordingly, Brown said.

One significant focus not covered by the first 100 day plan but indicated in the proposed stimulus package is a response to something more recent — the SolarWinds hack, which has impacted both government and commercial IT organizations.

In response the new administration is putting a new focus on cybersecurity, adding provisions that cover this area to the COVID-19 stimulus package.

While it needs to go through Congress, the American Rescue Plan from the administration calls for a total of more than $10 billion for cybersecurity and IT modernization efforts, plus some other IT-related areas.

“In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, we also face a crisis when it comes to the nation’s cybersecurity,” a brief of the plan says. “The recent cybersecurity breaches of federal government data systems underscore the importance and urgency of strengthening US cybersecurity capabilities. President-elect Biden is calling on Congress to launch the most ambitious effort ever to modernize and secure federal IT and networks.”

Even if it doesn’t remain in the stimulus package that Congress ultimately passes, the Biden administration’s inclusion of funding for cybersecurity highlights just what a priority this area is for the administration going forward.

The provision in the stimulus package calls for a modernization of federal IT to protect against future cyber attacks. That includes a $9 billion investment to help the US launch major new IT and cybersecurity shared services at the Cyber Security and Information Security Agency (CISA) and the General Services Administration, and complete modernization projects at federal agencies. It calls for a change to the fund’s reimbursement structure to enable more innovative and impactful projects.

Further, it provides for $200 million for additional hiring of hundreds of experts to support the federal CISO and the US Digital Service.

It also calls for investing $300 million to build shared, secure services to drive transformational projects without the need of reimbursement from agencies.

Further, it calls for improving security monitoring and response activities with an additional $690 million for CISA, funds that will also be used to support the piloting of new shared security and cloud services.

“In their stimulus package they are proposing putting $9 billion into that modernization fund, which would be a game changer for how modernization could occur across the federal government,” Brown said.

The funding for these programs is significant, according to Casey Coleman, a former CIO of the US General Services Administration (GSA), who is currently a senior VP for global government solutions at Salesforce. While the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) has been in place for a few years now, in the past it was funded to $100s of millions of dollars, she said. Funding of $10 billion signals that tech modernization is a priority for the new administration.

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