A Fix-It Job for Government Tech

Shira Ovide at the New York Times: “U.S. government technology has a mostly deserved reputation for being expensive and awful.

Computer systems sometimes operate with Sputnik-era software. A Pentagon project to modernize military technology has little to show after five years. During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans struggled to get government help like unemployment insurancevaccine appointments and food stamps because of red tape, inflexible technology and other problems.

Whether you believe that the government should be more involved in Americans’ lives or less, taxpayers deserve good value for the technology we pay for. And we often don’t get it. It’s part of Robin Carnahan’s job to take on this problem.

A former secretary of state for Missouri and a government tech consultant, Carnahan had been one of my guides to how public sector technology could work better. Then in June, she was confirmed as the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees government acquisitions, including of technology.

Carnahan said that she and other Biden administration officials wanted technology used for fighting wars or filing taxes to be as efficient as our favorite app.

“Bad technology sinks good policy,” Carnahan told me. “We’re on a mission to make government tech more user-friendly and be smarter about how we buy it and use it.”

Carnahan highlighted three areas she wanted to address: First, change the process for government agencies to buy technology to recognize that tech requires constant updates. Second, simplify the technology for people using government services. And third, make it more appealing for people with tech expertise to work for the government, even temporarily.

All of that is easier said than done, of course. People in government have promised similar changes before, and it’s not a quick fix. Technology dysfunction is also often a symptom of poor policies.

But in Carnahan’s view, one way to build faith in government is to prove that it can be competent. And technology is an essential area to show that…(More)”.