Building resilience by keeping your W.I.T.S.—workforce, innovation, technology and security— about you
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended normal government operations. But it has also presented opportunities to build a more resilient government, and rethink how agencies work and deliver services.
To examine these opportunities, the Partnership, the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, and MeriTalk—with support from our corporate partners—reviewed government’s response to the pandemic and offered recommendations for building resilience to future crises. Our resulting report is appropriately titled, “Resilient: Keeping Your Wits—Workforce, Innovation, Technology, Security—About You.”
Many agencies navigated the pandemic effectively and continued to achieve their missions in challenging circumstances. These agencies experimented with new ways of working to meet an unprecedented demand for government services. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, handled an almost fifteenfold increase in telehealth appointments for physical and mental health services by building on years-long investments in modern technologies, prioritizing the customer experience and fostering close collaboration between VA staff and medical providers.
However, some agencies stumbled. Federal health agencies, for example, struggled to collect and share accurate health care data with states, local governments and private partners. For these agencies, the pandemic exacerbated challenges already posed by antiquated technologies, and difficulties in hiring and retaining top talent.
Nevertheless, agency responses to the pandemic provide lessons for improving government resilience to future crises. Federal leaders told us that government must build:
- An agile workforce prepared to face changing circumstances, from global crises to evolving customer expectations.
- A culture of innovation that encourages federal employees to constantly seek new and better ways of doing business.
- A modern technology foundation that helps employees do their jobs more effectively.
- A cutting-edge cybersecurity infrastructure and security practices that keeps technology tools, data and information secure and private.
To implement these changes, agencies should:
- Recognize workforce, workplace and work style changes brought on by the pandemic, and give employees flexibility to determine how, when and where they get their work done.
- Use proven methods to encourage innovation, such as supporting employees who experiment with creative projects, positioning staff to implement new ideas, rewarding personnel who identify better ways to do their work, and frequently reviewing and revising outdated processes.
- Modernize outdated technology systems and move them to the cloud, recognizing this is a continuous process.
- Make security training for employees a continual focus, not a one-time activity, and run security drills and simulations to help employees learn how to recognize and respond to cybersecurity threats.
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need to build and maintain a resilient federal government. It showed that government must have the people, tools and resources to serve the public during changing circumstances. Agencies must recruit, hire and retain a skilled workforce, foster a culture of innovation, renew their focus on cybersecurity and purchase the newest technologies. Only sustained investments in these four areas—workforce, innovation, technology and security, or WITS—can ensure government is ready to face a post-pandemic world and new crises that arise.