How We Can Improve Government Technology

The government can harness technology to enhance citizens’ lives by first recognizing the significance of training.

How We Can Improve Government Technology
How We Can Improve Government Technology

During the initial four months of the Covid-19 pandemic, government leaders spent $100 million on management consultants from McKinsey to create models for coronavirus spread and develop online dashboards to forecast hospital capacity.

How Government Technology Can Be Improved

It’s not surprising that leaders sought McKinsey’s assistance because government technology is notoriously outdated. Our everyday encounters with online shopping and search clearly show the sharp difference between user-friendly interfaces and the frustrating inefficiencies of government websites—or, in some cases, the continued requirement to visit a government office to submit forms in person. The 2016 animated movie Zootopia shows sloths working at the DMV, a scene that was sure to generate laughter due to our low expectations of government responsiveness.

More seriously, we see these doubts in the significant decline of public trust in government. From the early failures of to the recent crashes of state unemployment websites, policymaking that neglects the technology implementing the policy has caused disastrous consequences.

The problem’s origin lies in the fact that the government, the largest employer in the US, doesn’t ensure its employees stay current with the latest tools and technologies. During my time in the Obama White House as the nation’s first deputy chief technology officer, I had to learn constitutional basics and watch annual training videos on sexual harassment and cybersecurity. However, I was never mandated to take a course on using technology to serve citizens and address issues. The last significant legislation regarding what public professionals should know dates back to the Government Employee Training Act of 1958, a time long before the internet was even invented.

In the United States, there is limited awareness in the public sector regarding the use of data or human-centered design. In a 2020 survey of over 400 public servants, less than 25 percent had received training in these more tech-enabled approaches, despite 70 percent expressing a desire for such training.

Congress Aims to Boost Government AI Knowledge with the AI Leadership Training Act

With the growing interest in artificial intelligence, Congress is focusing on making sure government employees gain a better understanding of the technology. U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana) advocate for comprehensive leadership training in AI through the AI Leadership Training Act, which is advancing to the full Senate for review. The bill instructs the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s human resources department, to provide AI basics and risk training to federal leadership. However, it does not currently require teaching how to use AI to enhance government operations.

The AI Leadership Training Act marks a significant step forward, but it should do more than just make basic AI training mandatory. It should demand that the OPM instruct public servants in using AI technologies to improve public service. This means making government services more accessible, ensuring continual access to city services, aiding in data analysis to comprehend citizen needs, and fostering new avenues for public engagement in democratic decision-making.

For example, cities are currently testing AI-based image generation for involving residents in urban planning. San Francisco’s PAIGE AI chatbot assists business owners with queries about selling to the city. Helsinki, Finland, employs an AI-powered decision-making tool to analyze data and offer policy recommendations. In Dubai, leaders are not only acquiring a general understanding of AI but also learning how to utilize ChatGPT specifically. The legislation should also require the OPM to instruct not only on what AI is but how to apply it in serving citizens.

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