New government technology



Keywords: new government technology
Description: The problems with the federal health insurance website have highlighted the need for broad reform in how the government uses technology to deliver public services. Some critics have used the

The problems with the federal health insurance website have highlighted the need for broad reform in how the government uses technology to deliver public services.

Some critics have used the troubles of the insurance site, HealthCare.gov, to claim that the government never gets technology right. But that accusation should ring false to anybody familiar with the important role federal agencies have played in advancing innovation. For instance, defense researchers helped create the Internet. And a recent study found that Internet users were more satisfied with the websites of the Social Security Administration than those of private businesses like Amazon.

Still, there is significant room for improvement. An analysis of 478 government technology projects from 2003 to 2012 by the Standish Group, a consulting firm, found that more than 40 percent had to be abandoned or restarted and 55 percent went over budget, were late or did not do what they were supposed to. And, as of July, the government reported that about 21 percent of technology projects under development posed significant concerns or needed management attention.

These failures point to poor project management by government officials and their over-reliance on contractors that often have a financial incentive to make promises they cannot fulfill. The government could address some of these problems by directly hiring more programmers, designers and other technologists.

The usable and efficient website of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. for instance, has been designed and developed in part by people it hired through a two-year fellowship program. Federal agencies can also improve their performance by following the example of private technology companies that develop new products and services in incremental steps, test their work repeatedly along the way and publicly release portions of it to get feedback from users. This approach, which is known as agile software development, reduces the uncertainty and risk that come with large projects.

Some arms of the government like NASA. the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are changing how they build technology systems. Another effort by technology fellows at the White House aims to streamline how agencies solicit bids for projects in order to get more businesses to compete for contracts, which could improve quality and lower costs.

Some Republicans have used the problems of HealthCare.gov to argue that the government cannot be trusted to take on big projects like making sure all Americans have health insurance. But that would be the wrong lesson to draw from this experience.






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