Our future government will work more like Amazon

Michael Case in The Verge: “There is a lot of government in the United States. Several hundred federal agencies, 535 voting members in two houses of Congress, more than 90,000 state and local governments, and over 20 million Americans involved in public service.

We say we have a government for and by the people. But the way American government conducts its day-to-day business does not feel like anything we, the people weaned on the internet, would design in 2014. Most interactions with the US government don’t resemble anything else we’re used to in our daily lives….

But if the government is ever going to completely retool itself to provide sensible services to a growing, aging, diversifying American population, it will have to do more than bring in a couple innovators and throw data at the public. At the federal level, these kinds of adjustments will require new laws to change the way money is allocated to executive branch agencies so they can coordinate the purchase and development of a standard set of tools. State and local governments will have to agree on standard tools and data formats as well so that the mayor of Anchorage can collaborate with the governor of Delaware.

Technology is the answer to a lot of American government’s current operational shortcomings. Not only are the tools and systems most public servants use outdated and suboptimal, but the organizations and processes themselves have also calcified around similarly out-of-date thinking. So the real challenge won’t be designing cutting edge software or high tech government facilities — it’s going to be conjuring the will to overcome decades of old thinking. It’s going to be convincing over 90,000 employees to learn new skills, coaxing a bitterly divided Congress to collaborate on something scary, and finding a way to convince a timid and distracted White House to put its name on risky investments that won’t show benefits for many years.

But! If we can figure out a way for governments across the country to perform their basic functions and provide often life-saving services, maybe we can move on to chase even more elusive government tech unicorns. Imagine voting from your smartphone, having your taxes calculated and filed automatically with a few online confirmations, or filing for your retirement at a friendly tablet kiosk at your local government outpost. Government could — feasibly — be not only more effective, but also a pleasure to interact with someday. Someday.”