2021 Leading for Impact Event: Key Takeaways

By Nancy Voorhees

The fourth annual Leading for Impact, Women in Leadership Conference celebrated the accomplishments of women in Government and industry. Three fireside chat panels featured women executives from various Government agencies speaking to the event’s theme, From Crisis to Opportunity: Building Resiliency to Drive Transformation, Modernization, and Success in 2022.

Three Moments of Impact featured defining thoughts and themes on selected individual’s paths to becoming the leaders they are today.

The Pandemic and Innovation

Amy Haseltine, Acting Director, Office of Enterprise Technology Solutions, GSA FAS, opened the event, reflecting upon the pandemic crisis and looking at how resilience can be leveraged to drive innovation. Amy asked attendees to consider work from three vantage points: delivering the best we can from a cost perspective, from a compliance perspective, and from a delivery and mission perspective in the here and now; leveraging matters, issues, opportunities, and challenges to drive innovation for the future; and helping bring people along to facilitate the transition from today to tomorrow to take advantage of that emerging technology. Time is impactful. While 24 months ago we could not have imagined the world we are living in today; 24 months from now we will remember three words: Resilience, results and opportunities.

From Crisis to Opportunity

The first fireside chat panel was led by Maria Roat, Deputy Federal CIO, OMB, EOP and featured Jeanne Beard, Director, Office of Information Systems, Office of Environmental Management, with the DOE; Beth Killoran, Deputy CIO for GSA; and Lauren Knausenberger, CIO, United States Air Force. The women spoke about ways their agencies responded to the pandemic and how they are building resiliency.

Lauren spoke about telework, including at the higher levels of security classification, leveraging communication tools, and deploying automation through the use of Robotic Process Automation low-code/no-code to take manual processes out of the way. Accessing data anywhere and leveraging it at speed has also been significant.

Beth said GSA helped other agencies scale quickly to buy to meet the needs of the pandemic. The agency pulled data focused on where infections were happening, mapping them to GSA buildings for extra cleaning. Access to data was critical for the agency.

Jeanne talked about resiliency in cyber security to more proactively prevent cyber security events, reduce the magnitude of those events, minimize recovery time with little to no disruption and have greater visibility into those events. The panel discussed how technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, automation, autonomy, quantum, and virtual reality will provide significant opportunities in the future.

The New IT Landscape

The second panel was moderated by Amy Hazeltine and brought together Jeneen Iwugo, Deputy Director, Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, CMS; Elizabeth McNamara, Deputy Director Technology and Data Services, FDA; and Leanna Miller, Digital Service Expert, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Office of Information and Technology, VA to discuss the new IT Landscape and how the pandemic has accelerated IT modernization and digital transformation.

Jeneen said that while CCSQ at CMS was well down the path to modernization when the pandemic hit, they were able to rapidly accelerate in response to the growing need. In 2021, they successfully migrated all IT systems into the cloud, resulting in an annual savings of about $35M a year. They were able to close a 12,000-foot data center and reduced the software defect rate at the same time, and were able to leverage a fairly untapped financial resource, providing about $25M to provide isolated nursing home patients with iPads to connect with their families. This is something else Jeneen said wouldn’t have happened outside of the needs of the pandemic.

Elizabeth, whose FDA center regulates PPE, lab equipment and medical devices, said the pandemic has accelerated the need for data, caused them to increase the pace of the work to accept and analyze data, and in some instances, take a risk of providing data delivery capabilities before a thorough review of the collection and consumption of that data. This was a risk that was required to meet the imperative associated with serving the public to produce results in the form of faster, more efficient services.

At the VA, Leanna said Veterans have increasingly relied on digital services and enabling telehealth appointments and that sharing biometric information via those appointments has been critical during the pandemic.

Lessons to take forward into the next 12 to 18 months were also shared by the group and include: ensuring solutions are driven by the users; measuring regularly, building iteratively and testing assumptions and hypotheses; increasing resiliency by looking at what proactive steps can be taken when systems are faced with these challenges/disasters; and completing the foundational efforts associated with data modernization, preserving high quality data that is easily and readily available for an unlimited set of use cases.

Navigating Acquisition and Procurement at the Speed of Innovation

The third and final panel was moderated by Lauren Thompson, PhD, Director Interoperability, Former FEHRM DOD Interagency Program Office, and brought together Florence Kasule, Director of Procurement, USDS, Executive Office of the President; Katherine Lugo, Director, IT Contracting Services Division, DOS; Kelly Moore, Deputy, Procurement Operations, USDA; and Sandra Oliver Schmidt, Deputy Director, Procurement Innovation Lab, DHS.  The panel discussed how the pandemic accelerated the need for a collaborative approach to acquisitions.

Florence said instead of waiting for the acquisition requirements package to come and go over the virtual fence, because of the speed and need for delivery during the pandemic, acquisition teams moved further upstream, working with their project and program managers to understand more about the needs and how to deliver together more efficiently. Florence said that although teams weren’t located together physically, the collaborative nature of the work became tighter because people had to be more involved virtually, asking questions and being open to understanding what the needs were.

Katherine said that the pandemic also allowed teams at DOS to be more collaborative and it allowed them to have a greater seat at the table as acquisition experts. A lot of good came from teams getting to know each other more personally during virtual encounters when, for example, a child might interrupt a meeting. That humanization made for better teams and better respect and collaboration.

Kelly said the program offices became much more accessible to the acquisition staff during the pandemic and agreed that the human element inherent in virtual communications has made it easier to understand where people are coming from; people are much more open.

Sandra said at DHS, because of the virtual tools available, it’s easier for customers and contracting officers to collaborate earlier and often. They are facilitating planning sessions to help teams not just develop requirements, but help determine the best evaluation approach and best strategy.

The group also talked about how they would like to see Industry become more involved in collaborating with Government on acquisitions by responding to market research, providing feedback on draft solicitations from a big picture standpoint, reaching out and providing examples of what other agencies are doing well, and by having meaningful, two-way conversations with contracting officers when those opportunities arise. At the end of the day, Government is going to work with industry to solve the various issues that are at play and greater collaboration can make the process better.

Winner Recognition

Programming wrapped with this year’s award winners being recognized as inspirational messages were played. Seventy-eight women from Government and industry were honored for creating impact and leading organizations and mission-focused strategic programs across the Federal Civilian, Federal Health, and Military Health, Technology and Consulting community.

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