Can AI help governments clean out bureaucratic “Sludge”?

Blog by Abhi Nemani: “Government services often entail a plethora of paperwork and processes that can be exasperating and time-consuming for citizens. Whether it’s applying for a passport, filing taxes, or registering a business, chances are one has encountered some form of sludge.

Sludge is a term coined by Cass Sunstein, in his straightforward book, Sludge, a legal scholar and former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to describe unnecessarily effortful processes, bureaucratic procedures, and other barriers to desirable outcomes in government services…

So how can sludge be reduced or eliminated in government services? Sunstein suggests that one way to achieve this is to conduct Sludge Audits, which are systematic evaluations of the costs and benefits of existing or proposed sludge. He also recommends that governments adopt ethical principles and guidelines for the design and use of public services. He argues that by reducing sludge, governments can enhance the quality of life and well-being of their citizens.

One example of sludge reduction in government is the simplification and automation of tax filing in some countries. According to a study by the World Bank, countries that have implemented electronic tax filing systems have reduced the time and cost of tax compliance for businesses and individuals. The study also found that electronic tax filing systems have improved tax administration efficiency, transparency, and revenue collection. Some countries, such as Estonia and Chile, have gone further by pre-filling tax returns with information from various sources, such as employers, banks, and other government agencies. This reduces the burden on taxpayers to provide or verify data, and increases the accuracy and completeness of tax returns.

Future Opportunities for AI in Cutting Sludge

AI technology is rapidly evolving, and its potential applications are manifold. Here are a few opportunities for further AI deployment:

  • AI-assisted policy design: AI can analyze vast amounts of data to inform policy design, identifying areas of administrative burden and suggesting improvements.
  • Smart contracts and blockchain: These technologies could automate complex procedures, such as contract execution or asset transfer, reducing the need for paperwork.
  • Enhanced citizen engagement: AI could personalize government services, making them more accessible and less burdensome.

Key Takeaways:

  • AI could play a significant role in policy design, contract execution, and citizen engagement.
  • These technologies hold the potential to significantly reduce sludge…(More)”.