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Texas CIO Tackles Digital Services, Workforce Challenges

Texas Chief Information Officer Amanda Crawford discusses broadband, the push to connect all residents to government and how the state is supporting local cybersecurity efforts.

Texas Chief Information Officer Amanda Crawford
Government Technology/David Kidd
Amanda Crawford has helmed the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) since November 2020, but she’s not new to Lone Star State government. She’s been with the state for two decades, including more than 18 months as executive director of DIR before becoming CIO. Crawford talked to GT in October about broadband, cybersecurity and making sure all Texans can connect with government.

1. Where are you seeing challenges around workforce?


The key workforce challenges for all industries, but particularly state IT, are recruitment and retention. Texas does a survey every few years of our state government, and interestingly, the category where we’re losing the most people is 30 and under. And of course there are retirements, which we expect, but to me this really signals that there’s something amiss: that we’re recruiting, that we’re getting that next generation of workers that we need to have the bench strength to keep going, but then we’re missing something. So we’re trying to drive on culture, drive on our mission, which really speaks to people: to be able to transform how government serves its constituents. We’re never going to be able to win the salary race with the private sector, but I think we can offer a lot through mission, and also by really promoting our successes in government during the pandemic and being able to transform and modernize.

2. Where is Texas on the path to getting everyone connected?


We can talk about modernized technology, digital government, all those things, but if people can’t connect to it and connect securely, none of that matters. So legislation passed this last regular session to create a broadband development council that’s housed with our comptroller of public accounts, and they’ll administer grants. [DIR’s] role in that is going to be supportive, consultative, probably using some of the contracts we have through our cooperative contracts program with the providers to help provide those services.

3. What big projects do you have on your plate?


At the Department of Information Resources, we have our Texas by Texas app, or TxT, a web app that allows Texans to interact with our government anytime, anywhere and from any device. We just launched with vehicle registration renewals that we can do through the app; we have occupational licenses that you can also renew through the app; we’re going to have driver’s license renewals. Coming in January 2022, you’ll be able to download the app through both iOS and Android and not just use it as a responsive web application. We think it really is transformational technology. It’s secure, it’s easy and it’s frankly the way Texans want to be able to do business with government now. Our big vision would be that you could also interact with your local government, so maybe pay your utility bill, handle tuition, figure out wherever you need to go for the services you need.

4. How are you tackling cybersecurity?


There was a large bill that came out of our last legislative session, SB 475, a comprehensive data management and cybersecurity bill that is putting forth a lot of great initiatives, and most of the responsibility falls on my agency. For example, we’re creating a volunteer incident response force, sort of a cyber militia, so that we can respond to large-scale events. It’s creating regional working groups, so we’re getting the local governments and folks to work together under standards and a structure that we roll down to help strengthen cybersecurity at that level, and then do mutual aid agreements with that volunteer cyber force.

We’ve created our own risk authorization and management program, called TexRAMP. All state agencies who contract for cloud computing services or products are going to need to contract with a TexRAMP-authorized provider by Jan. 1, 2022. So it’s a fast timeline. We’ll accept FedRAMP certification, StateRAMP certification, Arizona’s RAMP certification, as well as any other states’, but this is a no-cost way to help ensure the privacy and the protection of Texans’ data, and we are asking our cloud providers to just do what we ask our state agencies to do, which is meet our standards.
Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.