It’s almost ten years since the failed launch of healthcare.gov. This event served to cruelly expose what medium.com described as ‘an archaic, hodgepodge system of digital services’ that were often siloed, leading to fragmented connectivity and use across agencies. The healthcare.gov example led to a realization that IT systems didn’t just support a policy promise or mission, they were an integral part of delivering it too.
However, this failure added a new impetus and focus to a strategy of IT modernization within the government. We saw the implementation of the Cloud First strategy, the beginning of a focus on government data, a much greater role for the public/private partnership, and an emphasis on new technology areas, especially cybersecurity.
In 2016, Govtech magazine suggested that the Obama administration had ‘taught government how to ride the technology bicycle’ and that was something no future president could afford to roll back.
Continuing the Govtech drive
The Trump administration set out to continue a sweeping transformation of government computing to deliver dramatically improved services for citizens, stronger protection from cyber-attacks, and deliver $1 trillion of savings to taxpayers over 10 years.
We can see in strategies such as the President’s management agenda and IT modernization agenda that the administration was committed to advancing government technology by embracing bold change and big thinking; often adopting and evolving the work started by the previous administration. The ‘Cloud First’ strategy became ‘Cloud Smart’ in 2018, and a year later President Trump signed the Open Government Data Bill.
The results of this work have been impressive. Suzette Kent, former Federal CIO, recently told me that the ability to introduce new digital technologies and increase connectivity between agencies was pivotal for the response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
She said they’ve worked on: “getting common platforms in agencies so they could respond to the pandemic. Something that would not have been possible four years ago.”
This history of success is very likely to define the future direction for government computing.
In a podcast just before the election, I asked Francis Rose, host of the ‘Government Matters’ TV show, to outline differences between a Trump and a Biden administration.
The momentum in government IT that we’ve seen over the last 12-15 years will continue over the next four … Even if Biden wins and a whole lot of new people come in, it’s unlikely to change too much. The work of the Trump administration has worked pretty well and has been pretty well regarded by people (on) both sides of the aisle.”
– Francis Rose, Government Matters
The next four years
Forbes has suggested that an incoming Biden administration should address the situation that the US is 11th in the world for technological readiness, focusing on policies based around R&D and innovation. It seems that the Biden camp might have been listening.
And while COVID-19 has proven how well government agencies can deploy digital services, such as recent modernization projects in the DoD or the US Air Force, it also highlights the budgetary constraints that any new administration will face. Moving forward quickly with digital technologies may well become a widespread necessity to supply online service delivery with reduced resources.
This focus on digital innovation may be supplemented by a new skills-based agenda across government technology. Last year, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris proposed the Digital Services Act of 2019 that outlined increased funding to help state and local government digitally transform, and tying funding for digital projects to talent development. It set out that half of any federal grant must be devoted to human capacity. If this – or similar – legislation can be adopted more broadly, we may see the government build resources that help drive innovation, improve service delivery, and increase operational effectiveness.
Thankfully, government technology has proven to be remarkably non-partisan, and while different administrations may focus on different areas or ways to achieve their goals, a renewed focus on innovation and cooperation across government will ultimately benefit the citizens and the government.
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