The year 2021 has played out as a non-stop whirlwind of activity for the Federal IT community – one unprecedented in recent memory for new policy direction, funding pushes, and urgency to improve network security.

Changes in policy and priorities have been driven by many factors, chief among them:

  • New leadership in the White House and Office of Management and Budget (OMB);
  • Unrelenting cyber attacks against Federal and private networks and the need to defend better against them;
  • A clearer understanding by lawmakers of the need to fund agency IT modernization; and
  • Continuing pressure from the coronavirus pandemic to make work-from-anywhere an everyday option.

Suffice to say that everyone in the Federal IT community has earned their keep – and then some – in carrying forward tech priorities this year. While everyone enjoys a holiday break, here’s a look – in no particular order – at the top ten Federal IT chapters of 2021:

Federal leadership – White House edition: within hours of taking office the Biden administration issued an executive order mandating a data-driven approach to the government’s COVID-19 response strategy, including wider efforts to collect, share, and analyze data for response and recovery.

Federal leadership – OMB edition: the Federal government’s top IT policy-making operations received a big boost from the appointments in March of Clare Martorana as Federal CIO, Chris DeRusha in January as Federal Chief Information Security Officer, and the continuation of Maria Roat as Deputy Federal CIO.

TMF Funding:  The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), which had operated for the past few years on a modest budget to fund Federal agency IT modernization efforts, received a transformational $1 billion injection from Congress in March as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.  The TMF board has already moved about $311 million of the money to agencies mostly for projects that tie into cybersecurity imperatives and is likely to announce an additional funding round early in 2022 with a bigger focus on tech projects that yield citizen service improvements.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation:  Congress approved in November the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework – that authorizes $65 billion of funding to improve broadband service in the U.S. and about $2 billion in cybersecurity funding for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, along with electric grid operators.

Endless Frontier/USICA Bills:  Aside from providing more TMF funding, Congress has been very busy on several other Federal tech and cyber funding fronts this year, none more so than legislation that began its life in the Senate as the Endless Frontier Act and has since morphed into the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). The bottom line in the latest iteration of the legislation is a proposed $52 billion of funding for a new National Science Foundation Directorate of Technology, and a similar amount to support domestic semiconductor making.  USICA was decoupled late this year from defense spending legislation, and is expected to receive more legislative attention early in 2022.

TIC 3.0 Use Cases: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been busy evaluating and finalizing releases of Trusted Internet Connections 3.0 use cases that Federal agencies can use to advance their cybersecurity security postures.  Use case final approvals included ones for traditional TIC 3.0 implementation, and a branch office use case for remote offices.  Plenty more use cases remain in the pipeline, including ones for remote users, and cloud.

Permanent Telework Options:  The Biden administration said in June that permanent telework options will be available for Federal agencies to implement as needed going forward, representing a huge cultural shift for the Federal government that will allow agencies to offer flexible work-from-home and hybrid schedules to employees. This shift to permanent telework options also better arm agencies to compete with the private sector, which has offered remote work options long before the Federal government.

Goodbye JEDI, Hello JWCC: The Defense Department (DoD) in July put an end to a frustrating three years of work on its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud services contract, and began work on its new Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) cloud contract.  Four vendors are being asked to bid on the multi-vendor JWCC contract, with awards expected in April 2022.

FITARA 12.0 Scorecard: The House Oversight and Reform Committee in July issued the 12th edition of its FITARA Scorecard which rates Federal agencies on a variety of metrics to track their progress on IT improvements.  Taking the cake with the top score was the General Services Administration (GSA), with the Department of the Interior (DoI) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) generating the most improved scores for the 24 Federal agencies evaluated.

Customer Experience Executive Order: wrapping up major IT policy changes for 2021 was President Biden’s executive order that broadly supports new efforts by the government to improve the quality of citizen interactions with the government, and requires 17 Federal agencies to make customer experience (CX) improvements in 36 areas ranging from accessing retirement benefits to renewing travel passports. The administration’s CX executive order follows close on the heels of the November release by OMB of its Presidential Management Agenda “vision” document that identifies CX improvements – along with workforce and acquisition issues – as centerpieces of the administration’s agenda going forward.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.