This episode of the GeoTech Hour examines how the US government may quickly adopt new technology, foster innovation, and effectively deliver public services. Panelists offered novel solutions to create a modern, competitive, and nimble US government.
In the immediate future, the new administration must address gaps in technology adoption and innovation. Neglected legacy systems remain the norm for government agencies. To address this accumulation of technical debt, decisionmakers should pursue two policy tracks: foster public-private partnerships and seek greater funding from Congress. Public-private partnerships offer a well-known path to technology adoption in government, but the government can and should demand more from its private partners (e.g., create a USPS for email, or Gmail for the public sector). Of course, these partnerships, along with updating outdated government systems, must be financed, so the administration must prioritize securing funding for technology adoption and innovation.
New technology cannot streamline government services alone. Ultimately, it comes down to people and culture. Agencies must be realistic about their goals and capabilities and can no longer view technology as a silver bullet to their problems. Instead, leaders ought to create cultures where decision makers are encouraged to “fail fast” and quickly pivot to better policies. In the digital age, the road to effective governance starts with effective leadership.
Most important, the United States must rekindle trust from its citizens in new technologies and government programs. Fruitless initiatives and a deluge of misinformation has eroded citizens’ trust in institutions and government. The panelists suggested, however, that this narrative can be reversed by first focusing on the end-users (ordinary citizens). Public services ought to be easy to use and meet expectations, and taxpayers are the ultimate stakeholder, after all. Delivering effective digital services has the secondary effect of improving the government’s public image. The US government’s bureaucracy has a messaging problem—it is synonymous with waste and unreliability. Securing policy wins at the local level will give citizens the impression that their government has changed, and with renewed faith in government, the new administration can use technology to implement policy and promote good governance with popular support.
Ben Schatz is a junior at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where he studies Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA), concentrating on security. He also minors in Latin American Studies and Computer Science. His coursework focuses on the intersection of technology and international development, and he intends to continue learning about how new technologies can solve global issues.
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Nonresident Senior Fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security