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A Fix-It Job for Government Tech

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A Fix-It Job for Government Tech

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here . is a collection of last column,

US government technology has a mostly deserved reputation for being expensive and terrible.

Computer systems sometimes work with Sputnik-era software. A Pentagon project to modernize military technology has little to show after five years. During the coronavirus pandemic, red tape, inflexible technology and other problems caused millions of Americans to struggle to access government aid such as unemployment insurance, vaccine appointments and food stamps.

You believe that government should be more or less involved in Americans’ lives, taxpayers deserve good value for the technology we pay for. And often we don’t understand. Dealing with this problem is part of Robin Carnahan’s job.

A former Missouri Secretary of State and a government technical adviser, Carnahan was one of my guides on how public sector technology could work better. Then in June, she was confirmed as administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees government acquisitions, including technology.

Carnahan said he and other Biden administration officials wanted the technology used to fight wars or file taxes to be as efficient as our favorite app.

“Bad technology drowns out good policy,” Carnahan told me. “We’re on a mission to make government technology more user-friendly and smarter about the way we buy and use it.”

Carnahan highlighted three areas she wanted to focus on: First, changing the process for government agencies to buy technology to recognize that technology needs constant updates. Second, making technology easier for people using government services. And third, make it more attractive for people with technical expertise to work for the government, even temporarily.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. People in government have promised similar changes in the past, and it’s not a quick fix. Technology slackness is also often a symptom of poor policies.

But in Carnahan’s view, one way to build confidence in a government is to prove it can. And technology is an essential area to show that.

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Building that capability starts with something very mundane – budgeting and purchasing. Carnahan told me last year that governments have a tendency to fund the way they bridge digital infrastructure. They buy it once and try not to think too much about it for the next few decades. That mindset is mismatched with technology, which works best with continuous improvement and maintenance.

Carnahan said she was trying to spread the message in Congress and government agencies that over time an estimated amount of government funding is a better way to buy the technology. Carnahan said the government should be looking at technology like Lego sets, pieces that are regularly replaced or rebuilt. (Hey, metaphors work for me.)

She also hopes to use technology to help relieve headaches that make it difficult for people to access public services.

As an example, Carnahan mentioned that she wanted to significantly expand the number of government services accessible through login.gov. There, people can create a single digital account to interact with multiple services, such as applying for a government job or filing for disaster assistance for a small business.

And like many in government, Carnahan has been making a pitch for people with technical expertise to work for the public sector. His appeal is part pragmatism and part patriotism. “Government is the best way to make an impact on people’s lives,” Carnahan said.

He said remote working has made government jobs more realistic for people who don’t want to move to Washington, and so have programs like the US Digital Service and the new US Digital Corps, which allow technologists to work with civil servants in shorter tenures. allow to do. ,

Carnahan isn’t pretending it would be easy to replace decades of relative laxity in government technology. But he believes it’s important to do so now that technology is often the primary way people interact with local, state and federal governments, whether it’s registering to vote or getting aided for a Medicare claim. Have to do

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“Working up damn websites is the basic thing that people expect from the government these days,” she said.


  • How do we keep kids safe online? US law more or less restricts Internet services to users under the age of 13. My colleagues at The New York Times Opinion talked to young children who are online despite restrictions, and made the case that America learns from new child-protection guidelines. Britain.

    (The Opinion Today newsletter has a back story about those clever kids. You can sign up here.)

  • A hammer falls on spyware: Apple sued NSO Group, an Israeli company whose software has been misused by governments to spy on the smartphones of human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. My colleague Nicole Perloth writes that the lawsuit and the recent blacklisting of NSO by the US government may be steps towards greater surveillance of the global market for spyware.

  • Thoughtful gift idea! Brian X Chen, consumer technology columnist for The Times, has beautiful ideas for tech-related holiday gifts that aren’t gadgets. (I bet Brian’s wife will love his digital photography lessons. Don’t spoil the surprise.)

I’m obsessed with the NASA spacecraft that launched today on a mission to blast it off into a sports stadium-sized asteroid. Yes, this is like the plot of the movie “Armageddon”.


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