Agencies need better ‘consistency’ to move faster in pandemic response, Federal CIO says

Suzette Kent applauded many of the changes agencies have made to face the coronavirus, but said more collaboration is key to continued success.
Federal CIO Suzette Kent
Suzette Kent at 2018 CyberTalks. (FedScoop)

The coronavirus pandemic has taught agency leaders that interoperable data and other areas of collaboration are crucial for moving fast in a crisis, says Federal CIO Suzette Kent.

Many agencies took quickly to maximum teleworking — with some bumps in the road — despite not having pandemic-specific plans, she said. Kent urged them to consider how they can build on those lessons learned, particularly in working agency-to-agency.

“We need more commonality and consistency to move quickly,” Kent said Thursday during a Dcode webinar.

For agencies directly responding to the crisis, the most immediate cross-agency need was synthesizing data. The Department of Health and Human Services launched the HHS Protect project to pull health data from across federal, state and local levels of governments and hospitals to inform the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which FedScoop first reported in April.


The coordination from disparate sources didn’t happen overnight, forcing HHS to turn to Silicon Valley company Palantir for help in “harmonizing” the data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also worked with Palantir, lacked public data sharing tools for months into the pandemic.

Kent also flagged how the need for data-driven decisions has increased the “urgency” agencies have in finding chief data officers. Many were supposed to have appointed CDOs installed by last year, but some remain dual-hatted or serving in acting capacities. Other agencies not initially required to have data leadership, like the CDC, are now looking to hire one.

Kent tipped her hat to the many government officials who have made dramatic changes to their work life during the pandemic. Many went from never even bringing a device into their home to recreating their whole work-lives in their homes.

“Overall it has been exciting,” she said.

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