Six Key Questions for 2015: What You Need to Know

Feds face a long to-do list and lots of questions about the ability – and willingness – of the legislative and executive branches to work together as the 114th Congress convenes. Six issues lawmakers must grapple with in the New Year:

Who Will Be the Next Federal CIO (and does it Matter)?

The White House has been evaluating candidates to replace Steven VanRoekel as U.S. Federal CIO since he resigned the post in September to join the U.S. Agency for International Development and the fight against Ebola. But whether President Obama will appoint a Washington insider or import a Silicon Valley star to fill the position is not yet crystal clear. In theory, whoever gets the nod will oversee a Federal IT budget of some $80 billion. The Federal CIO doesn’t really control IT budgets – at least not directly. It’s more of a bully pulpit to influence the agency CIOs who really own the budgets.

Insiders predict a Washington native will take the reins because outsiders won’t be familiar with the arcane acquisition rules and other baggage that bogs down Federal policy and procurement.

Inside-the-Beltway candidates could include Dr. David Bray, CIO of the FCC (where VanRoekel also served), Dr. Alissa Johnson, Deputy CIO of the White House, and Richard Spires, former CIO for the Department of Homeland Security. Or the president could again turn to Google, as he did for Michelle Lee at the Patent & Trademark Office and Megan Smith, chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science & Technology.

So does it matter? That all depends on who the president picks – and what that choice does with the federal CIO’s bully pulpit.

Can Feds Make FedRAMP Fast and Flexible?

The Federal Risk Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which facilitates Federal cloud installations, was created by the General Services Administration (GSA) to authorize and accelerate cloud implementation across multiple agencies. Unfortunately, the authorization process to select cloud vendors is still tedious for many agencies.

“Confusion over how best to incorporate cloud security standards in procurements has reached a breaking point,” according to Jason Miller, at Federal News Radio.

But FedRAMP managers in December issued “FedRAMP Forward,” a two-year outline for the program, indicating they want to spread responsibility for cloud service authorization across the government. They’re re-launching to provide additional resources for agencies pondering cloud implementation, and GSA will release automation requirements for vendors and agencies to produce more efficient documentation and issue a draft high baseline for non-classified tech systems under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

Will Congress Tackle Cyber?

From attacks on Home Depot and other vendors to the exploitation of celebrities’ private photos and the hacking of Sony Pictures, cybersecurity is on everyone’s agenda. But will Congress try to legislate us to a more secure cyber world?

Numerous congressional committees are preparing to tackle cyber, but it remains to be seen what they can do to protect industry and consumers. Insider threats, phishing expeditions, and straight-up hackers all pose their own risks. And the fact is the government is as prone to attack – perhaps more so – as any private party. Congress can’t solve this problem with legislation. But it can help, beginning with setting minimum self-defense standards for industry, promoting general awareness and training in government and nationwide, and encouraging international cooperation in cyber defense and response.

Will the FAA Define a Forward-Looking Drone Policy?

The U.S. government isn’t moving as fast as industry wants it to, and the FAA is facing mounting pressure to govern commercial drone operations. While some foreign governments have already moved on the matter, the FAA remains deeply concerned about the safety implications of adding drones to America’s already crowded commercial airspace. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, is playing the international competitiveness card. He argues that the U.S. risks missing out on drone delivery and falling behind economically.

“It’s highly likely that other countries get drone delivery before the U.S.,” Bezos told a conference hosted by Business Insider. “Maybe I’m being too skeptical, but it’s certainly possible.”

U.S. drone makers are the worldwide technology leaders but worry Feds will keep them grounded. They fear a late start in their home commercial market will have them losing out to foreign competitors later on – both abroad and at home.

Will Big Data Rise Up to Defeat Fraud, Waste, and Abuse?

Before 2015, the role of a data scientist/analyst was clear. But the duties and qualifications are blurring as analytics capability rapidly advances.

Data scientists and data analysts have more data than ever to help agencies spot trends and anomalies as they fight an estimated $300 billion a year in fraud, waste, and abuse. Those tools also enable planners to get predictive and more rapidly respond to changing needs in e-government.

Data holds incredible promise and can make Feds smarter, faster, and more efficient. Prescriptive and predictive analytics aren’t reserved for Silicon Valley.

Can Congress Stop Sequestration, Raise the Debt Limit, and Get its Fiscal House in Order?

The clock is already ticking as incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell takes his new role and joins Rep. John Boehner as co-leader of a Republican-controlled Congress.

First up is raising the debt limit, which Congress last addressed in February 2014 and which will need to be raised again between now and March 15. Everyone knows they have to do it, but taking on more debt is a theme that doesn’t resonate well with the Tea Party wing of the party. The government’s current borrowing limit expires in March, but the Treasury can use an “extraordinary measures” fund and the standard tax collections in March and April, prolonging the suspense and propelling us toward a summer showdown.

Another fight over military and domestic spending is inevitable before a deal is struck. And then there’s sequestration. Last year’s deal to suspend those automatic across-the-board budget cuts expires September 30. Mark your calendars – but stand by for a series of half measures and delay tactics. Just ecause we’ve seen a change in which party controls the Senate doesn’t mean Congress will alter is predilection for kicking such big decisions a little bit further down the block.

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Bill Glanz is the content director for MeriTalk and its Exchange communities. In the past 14 years, he has worked as a business reporter, press secretary, and media relations director in Washington, D.C.