Tech companies seem to move at the speed of light, but what about the U.S. government? What is the White House digital strategy doing for you and the future of America?
Like any large-scale mature organization, the federal government needs to go digital in order to remain efficient and relevant. However, there are many challenges when it comes to building government digital transformation—legacy systems, resistance to change, entrenched contractors using outdated business practices—it’s a minefield of potential issues.
These issues aren’t exclusive to the federal government—they’re problems faced by many executives at enterprise companies around the world. And just like the traditional businesses that are trying to go digital, the White House has had a rough time getting started.
Back in 2013, the government experienced its first massive and public digital failure. The launch of the greatly anticipated Healthcare.gov fell flat on its face when the site crashed the day it went live. For anyone who works with enterprise digital, this type of failure is a familiar problem—a digital product with a hard deadline goes over budget and breaks down on delivery.
“Government has done technology and IT terribly over the last 30 years and fallen very much behind the private sector,” President Obama was quoted as saying. “And when I came into government, what surprised me most was that gap.”
While Healthcare.gov didn’t deliver as expected, the experience hasn’t stopped the federal government from pressing forward. Evident from recent digital initiatives spearheaded by Obama himself, the government has learned from past mistakes and is now making headway with their digital strategy.
Rising from the fall
After Healthcare.gov stumbled out of the gate—and after facing the ensuing political and public relations nightmare—the White House decided it was time to bring in an elite set of technologists. They set out to recruit high quality talent from the tech community.
The focus of this recruitment appears to have been on tech-savvy masterminds who were willing to challenge the status quo. These individuals needed to create new processes, and push back when bureaucracy prevented them from using cutting-edge platforms and frameworks.
In the end, the newly recruited talent was able to resuscitate the site and establish a new way for the government to do business.
The digital progress the White House made could have easily ended there, but the government realized the need to capitalize on the momentum. And so began the building of the U.S. Digital Service.
The White House’s digital objectives
Expanding the team of top tech talent was a huge priority for the White House. Some of the ways they attracted new talent was through hackathons, developer recruitment, and an emphasis on API development. According to Fast Company, Obama himself even showed up at these recruitment sessions vowing to do whatever it takes to convince top talent to help overhaul the government’s digital infrastructure.
Once this new technology team was solidified and fortified, the White House began to address other high profile technology challenges in the federal government—like benefits for Veterans, Immigration, the health insurance marketplace, student loans, electronic health records, and the Freedom of Information Act system. The government also combined their new technology team with larger federal government initiatives to scale up.
Meanwhile, at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), they’re thinking about broader questions. There’s a strong concern with how the government is using data at a policy level, and how to protect the privacy of the American people in the face of emerging technologies. Even OSTP’s new tech adviser, Askhan Soltani, will be focusing his attention on consumer protection, and big data and privacy issues.
As the White House continues to expand its digital strategy, we can expect more good things from the government as a result. Technological cultural change is inevitably hard, but the U.S. Digital Service represents a promising step towards a modern digital approach to governing.