Gentz: White House Tech Week – What Does it Mean for Us?

After an Executive Order was signed May 1 the American Technology Council was formed and started last week with three main tasks:

  • Coordinate the vision, strategy, and direction for the Federal Government’s use of information technology and the delivery of services through information technology
  • Coordinate advice to the President related to policy decisions and processes regarding the Federal Government’s use of information technology and the delivery of services through information technology; and
  • Work to ensure that these decisions and processes are consistent with the policy set forth and implemented

The council got off to a bit of a rocky start (almost to be expected by now) when Elon Musk of Tesla departed the council due to President’s Trump decision to leave the Paris Agreement, embattled Uber CEO Travis Kalanick faced backlash and pulled out, and notably missing from the first meeting was Facebook (both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg cited scheduling issues- it’s unclear if this means declined to participate, or may show up when they feel like it) and it appears that Twitter wasn’t even invited. For a complete list of attendees Recode has been keeping up on all the latest.

Industry, let me Introduce you to Government

I read Steve Case’s “The Third Wave” about a year ago, and it got me really excited. As a policy nerd who sees inefficiencies in government, someone who is working to encourage districts to use technology to increase student achievement and outcomes in education, and the idea is literally disrupting every industry- it feels like the stars are aligning to use technology well to improve processes and save tax dollars.

Case describes how the traditional relationship that industry has had with the government will change. Instead of governments being looked at as regulators and the (bad) guys who want to essentially slow or halt innovation, they will actually become consumers on the products being created by industry for disruption. This means that elected officials, agencies, and public sector friends will now work closely in order to create solutions that streamline processes and create a more efficient public sector.

President Obama tried to get a tech group going- but it proved to be an impossible task. The approach was a bit different, he established the U.S. Digital Service, which the administration named a “startup at the White House”. This service worked to pair tech experts with federal agencies that needed help. It was more of a decentralized approach. The ATC will meet together in ad-hoc meetings, task forces, or interagency groups.

The encouraging aspect of the ATC is that all the players are already in the roomtogether. In the tech community- it’s sometimes hard to see how far behind the government really is. Even at the state level- sometimes something simple like using Google forms for feedback from participants in event is literally revolutionary. A simple tool like this is a no brainer to us- but just using it instead of manually entering feedback into the system saves hours of labor. Even a simple tool like this experiences some pushback- and often has to be run up to the highest level to approve.

As members of the workforce are younger and younger- the pushback will lessen and the opportunities will continue to grow. It is important to give credit to the agencies working to increase efficiencies now- even with an older workforce- they are the ones who are the movers and shakers in Government. In fact, there is a whole brand of e.republic* GovTech devoted specifically to calling out what public sector employees are already doing to shake things up- Iowa would do well to take a look at some of these innovative practices.

A Sign of Tech Improvement at the Federal Level

In our current climate, we often don’t see many bills of substantial impact enacted into law. Sure, bills become laws, but most of them are a bit fluffy. In December 2015, in what President Obama called a “Christmas Miracle” a piece of substantial federal legislation that overhauled our nation’s K-12 education system was enacted. The bill was crafted with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, and was signed by a Democrat president.

Keep in mind that this reauthorization of this law was eight years past due. Although there are many factors for why this attempt was successful (largely in part due to the leadership of Senator Alexander Lamar (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and the incredible bipartisanship work they did) is the emphasis it placed on technology. Technology is not a partisan issue. Both sides agree that when implemented properly- the benefits are numerous. This particular piece of legislation created an entire block grant to distribute to states for technology and broadband. There are funds for professional development so educators know how to teach well with technology. The examples of tech weaved throughout the bill are too many to count- but it’s certainly a point both parties could agree upon.

If we as a country are able to focus on technology and how it can improve processes, streamline outcomes, and save taxpayer dollars – the industry shouldn’t matter, we should be able to come to logical conclusions for improvement for all of our citizens.

What Happened at the Inaugural Tech Week?

The meeting had different topics for different days. In the first day, the focus was on modernizing government technology, and there have been many closed door meeting and sessions, so the public will be in the dark a bit on what happens in these meetings- but don’t be surprised if draft bills relating to these topics start popping up. Drones have also been a topic of discussion- focusing on regulations at the state and federal level.