This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a group of past columns.
US government technology has a well-deserved reputation for being both expensive and intimidating.
Computer systems sometimes work With programs from the era of Sputnik. The Pentagon’s project to modernize military technology has little to show in five years. During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have struggled to get government assistance like unemployment insurance, vaccination appointments, and food stamps Because of bureaucracy and technology inertia and other issues.
Whether you think government should be involved in one way or another in the lives of Americans, taxpayers deserve good value for the technology we pay for. Often we don’t understand it. This is part of Robin CarnahanIt is the task of addressing this problem.
Carnahan, a former Missouri Secretary of State and government technical advisor, has been one of my mentors on how public sector technology can work better. Then in June it was confirmed As director of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees government procurement, including technology.
Carnahan said she and other Biden administration officials wanted the technology used to fight wars or raise taxes as effective as our favorite app.
“Bad technology is good policy,” Carnahan told me. “We are on a mission to make government technology more user-friendly and to be smarter about how we buy and use it.”
Carnahan highlighted three areas she wanted to address: First, changing the process of technology procurement by government agencies to realize that technology required constant updates. Second, simplifying technology for people using government services. And third, make it more attractive for people with tech experience to work for the government, even temporarily.
All of this is easier said than done, of course. Members of the government have already promised similar changes, and this is not a quick fix. It is often a technological defect Symptoms of bad policies.
But in Carnahan’s view, one way to build trust in government is to demonstrate its competence. And technology is a key area to show this.
The development of this skill begins with something very boring: budget and procurement. Carnahan told me last year that governments tend to fund digital infrastructure as much as they do bridge construction. They buy it once and try not to think about it too much for the next few decades. This mindset is no match for technology, which works best with continuous improvement and maintenance.
Carnahan said she was trying to get the message across to Congress and government agencies that the expected amount of government funding distributed over time is a better approach to buying technology. Carnahan said the government should think of the technology as Lego sets, with parts that are regularly exchanged or rebuilt. (Hello, metaphors work for me.)
She also hopes to use technology to help eliminate headaches that prevent people from accessing public services.
For example, Carnahan has stated that she wants to significantly increase the number of accessible government services login.gov. There, people can create a single digital account to interact with multiple services, such as those for applying for government jobs or requesting disaster assistance for a small business.
And like many people in the government, Carnahan also makes a file Pitch for people with technical experience Work in the public sector. Its appeal is partly pragmatic and partly patriotic. “Government is the best way to influence people’s lives,” Carnahan said.
She said telecommuting has made government jobs more realistic for people who don’t want to move to Washington, and therefore have programs like american digital service and new American digital body, which allows technicians to spend short periods with government officials.
Carnahan does not claim that it would be easy to change decades of relative flaws in government technology. But she believes it is critical now that technology is often the primary way people interact with local, state and federal governments, whether it’s to register to vote or get help. To claim health insurance.
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