Better Government Tech Is Possible

Article by Beth Noveck: “In the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic, government leaders paid $100 million for management consultants at McKinsey to model the spread of the coronavirus and build online dashboards to project hospital capacity.

It’s unsurprising that leaders turned to McKinsey for help, given the notorious backwardness of government technology. Our everyday experience with online shopping and search only highlights the stark contrast between user-friendly interfaces and the frustrating inefficiencies of government websites—or worse yet, the ongoing need to visit a government office to submit forms in person. The 2016 animated movie Zootopia depicts literal sloths running the DMV, a scene that was guaranteed to get laughs given our low expectations of government responsiveness.

More seriously, these doubts are reflected in the plummeting levels of public trust in government. From early failures to the more recent implosions of state unemployment websites, policymaking without attention to the technology that puts the policy into practice has led to disastrous consequences.

The root of the problem is that the government, the largest employer in the US, does not keep its employees up-to-date on the latest tools and technologies. When I served in the Obama White House as the nation’s first deputy chief technology officer, I had to learn constitutional basics and watch annual training videos on sexual harassment and cybersecurity. But I was never required to take a course on how to use technology to serve citizens and solve problems. In fact, the last significant legislation about what public professionals need to know was the Government Employee Training Act, from 1958, well before the internet was invented.

In the United States, public sector awareness of how to use data or human-centered design is very low. Out of 400-plus public servants surveyed in 2020, less than 25 percent received training in these more tech-enabled ways of working, though 70 percent said they wanted such training…(More)”.