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The online census is live

On Thursday, the online self-response portal for the 2020 census went live. It gives Americans the opportunity to respond to the survey on the internet for the first time. The decision to bring the survey mostly online came with huge challenges in recent years, but it's one that will have an immense impact on developing a more accurate and complete count of Americans, Zack Schwartz, deputy division chief of the U.S. Census Bureau‘s Communications Directorate, told FedScoop at the IT Modernization Summit this week. “We talked a lot about how we can build an IT system, not only our self-response portal, but even our website to withstand the amount of traffic in a very short period of time,” Schwartz said. “Being able to scale to meet the needs of the American public so that your experience ... it’s not reacting in a way that’s negative and makes you want to get off and say, ‘Look, it’s just another failed government program.'” Billy Mitchell spoke to Schwartz.

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Advice on federal telework from experts

If anybody knows how to telework well in government, it's the digital services experts at 18F. The team, founded in 2014, has been "remote first" from the start. Former leaders from that team and others gave advice Thursday on how federal agencies can respond to the coronavirus pandemic and allow telework if necessary. For instance, employees should do their homework to determine if software is free or can bill the agency as a service — lowering the cost of entry and reducing paperwork by coming in below procurement thresholds. The FedRAMP product list shows software that can be secured at low or no cost. “It really is an easy way to prove to your leadership team that these things are well-vetted and approved and aren’t going to cause big security problems,” said Robin Carnahan, former director of state and local practice at 18F, during a virtual Code for America summit Thursday. Dave Nyczepir has the scoop on government telework.

VA goes full-on COTS

The Department of Veterans Affairs is all-in on commercial off-the-shelf technology. A pair of VA officials spoke this week at the IT Modernization Summit about the department's push to buy ready-made solutions from the private sector to modernize its services and better reach younger veterans. The VA’s “buy first” approach is driven by a generation of veterans who expect the department to deliver benefits similar to companies they encounter in the private sector, said Surafeal Asgedom, the VA’s chief modernizing officer. “Our demographics have changed, as well as expectations,” Asgedom said. “There is a higher level of expectations in terms of the service they get from us.” Dominic Cussatt, deputy VA CIO, said during a separate panel Wednesday: “We don’t want to invent that stuff on our own. We want to leverage the innovation out there.” Jackson Barnett has more from the VA.

Can AI solve the coronavirus?

The White House wants to tackle the coronavirus pandemic using artificial intelligence and other technological innovations. The Office of Science and Technology Policy led a call Wednesday morning with industry to discuss how companies might aid agencies’ response to the virus. During the call, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios demonstrated a new database of full-text scientific publications on the new coronavirus to companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. “It’s about making sure we can collectively take advantage of all the good ideas the tech industry has, but it also helps the agencies to have a process for presenting a challenge that we have — an idea that we have that we would love to have help with,” Lynne Parker, deputy U.S. CTO, told FedScoop. “Then the tech industry can sort of coalesce around particular solutions.” Dave Nyczepir has the story.

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