Governors Focus on Infrastructure, Offer Technology and Security Priorities

The National Governors Association held its 2019 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., this past week, and the top focus was on infrastructure. And yet, a deeper look shows the vital role of technology, cybersecurity, partnerships and much more.

by / March 3, 2019
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, 2018-2019 NGA Chair. Credit: National Governors Association

As the nation and the world focused on nuclear talks with North Korea, the testimony of Michael Cohen and a string of new people announcing that they are running for president, several important stories were (sadly) squeezed out of national news headlines and online media coverage.

One of the most important, and under-reported series of stories over the past several weeks has been the coverage of the 2019 National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.   

Why is this important?

Beyond a long list of political themes and candidates jockeying for national power across the country, there are important bread-and-butter issues that impact Americans at home in so many practical ways right now. Amazingly, these local themes tend to be fairly uniform across the county, whether states lean red or blue in elections.

For example, Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s new Democratic governor, said this at the 2019 NGA Midyear Meeting, “Governors are focused on infrastructure and closing the skills gap.” 

Whitmer sat next to President Trump at the annual meeting between the president and governors, and she told the president that she was elected primarily on the pledge to “fix the damn roads.”   

Indeed the NGA theme in 2019, which is described in detail in this NGA press release, is infrastructure. Here’s an excerpt: 

“Governors look forward to working with Congress as it develops legislation that enhances our current infrastructure programs, provides states flexibility for augmenting investment with innovative financing tools, streamlines the federal review process in a way that maintains necessary environmental protections and embraces innovative practices and forward-looking technologies. …”

By the end of the gathering, the news was surprisingly upbeat when state leaders went home. The Hill.com reported: Governors bullish on infrastructure after Trump talks. The article begins: “The nation’s governors are increasingly hopeful that a sweeping infrastructure package is possible this year after White House talks that even some of President Trump’s harshest critics called surprisingly productive. …”

Overall, there were 22 new governors elected in 2018, and their actions will certainly influence America’s direction on a wide range of vital issues going forward.

This brief video helps us gain an appreciation for the atmosphere offered at these important NGA meetings every year — with a kickoff gathering at Vice President Pence's residence that is not political.

Key Messages and Sessions from NGA Midyear Meeting

I find the themes, speeches and actual words used by the governors to be very helpful for security and technology professionals to listen to for many reasons. These agenda items, public policy debates and innovative ideas describe the “why” behind state and federal government programs. They also put clear guidelines and metrics around the topic of “what does success look like?”

Chair's Initiative: Good Jobs for All Americans

Rather than embed all of the (very informative) sessions here, I have listed the headline for the sessions below and encourage readers to watch the YouTube videos (which are hyperlinked) wherever they have particular interest. There are many security and technology implications to most of these sessions, but pay special attention to how these topics are framed by both governors and subject-matter experts in each topic area.

NGA MidYear Sessions 2019 (Recorded as YouTube Videos)

These are truly informative, even fascinating sessions, which touch on numerous technology, infrastructure and security topics — using common language that is not “tech-speak.”

I was especially impressed with the jobs initiatives under the NGA chair’s initiative and the Google efforts described in the “Digital Skills for All Americans” session — with many minorities and women getting good-paying tech jobs after retraining. Also, pay attention to the digital skills initiatives that leverage local libraries as “de facto job centers.”    

What About Cybersecurity Topics?

Delaware CIO James Collins, who is the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) president this year, spoke during one NGA session about the vital role of election security. “We know network infrastructure, we know risk assessments. I don’t mean to minimize any of the systems that have been mentioned, but from the CIO’s perspective, the election system is one of many systems we work to protect every day. We have information on every citizen from cradle to grave.”

However, the focus that was given to cybersecurity at NGA sessions over the past few years was not as prominent this year. For example, two years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe made cybersecurity the NGA’s top priority, establishing an initiative called Meet the Threat: States Confront the Cyber Challenge. 

The details behind NGA’s cybersecurity efforts can be found here at the NGA best practices cyber website.

There was an announcement at the NGA meeting that included 18 governors launching cybersecurity skills programs for young women. Here’s an excerpt:

“What: An online game enabling high school students to discover their (often hidden) talent for cybersecurity by solving real world cyberproblems and win hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships for themselves and prizes for their schools. Girls who do well earn full use of the game for themselves and for 50 more students in their schools for the rest of the school year — including the boys who were very jealous last year.

Why: The nation's severe shortage of technical cybersecurity talent. Many talented students never learn they could be great at it and go into less rewarding and less creative fields. The CyberStart game used in the National Governors' CyberSkills Program was proven by the UK government to enable students to discover their talent.”  

NGA also announced an upcoming session at the RSA Conference in San Francisco this week on the role of women in cyber in the states.

Final Thoughts

Recently, Government Technology magazine analyzed the State of the State Addresses across the country to see what the governors were focusing on in 2019 related to technology. Here’s an excerpt of that piece:

“Based on early speeches, common themes predominate, with most governors laying out plans to strengthen state education systems with a parallel focus on job creation. Technology factors heavily into both. Many speeches refer to specific programs aimed at injecting more resources into things like coding and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related curriculum. Likewise, luring and growing tech-related industry to their states is high on the list of many leaders who are eager to rattle off the names of new investments from familiar tech giants with footprints throughout the country. …”

I encourage readers to dive deeper into these state priorities which offer the pragmatic middle ground that residents care about a lot in my view.

As I watched these sessions, I remember my presentation on cybersecurity at the NGA Midyear meeting in Washington D.C. in 2013, which had a big impact on me and our Michigan team in many ways. The expertise, the focus and the passion is clearly evident in the speakers and the sessions at these NGA Midyear Meetings.  

As you dive deeper into these sessions, you will gain an overall respect for the role of NGA and the governors in helping our country move forward in diverse ways. I only wish these NGA sessions received more attention from the media.

I urge readers to take the time to see technology, security and innovation through the eyes (and vocabulary) of our nation’s governors, as expressed in these NGA Midyear Meeting sessions referenced above. You will be glad you did.       

 

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