Why is it so difficult to build government technology?
Throughout, politicians, engineers, and public health officials had to keep people’s information safe, and even more challenging, they had to convince people that they had succeeded.
What would it really take for government technology to work well in the US? What are the basics of a healthy technology infrastructure that can work for the residents they need?
We asked five experts why it is so difficult to build good government technology and how to create a healthy technology infrastructure for people based on results.
Broken data landscape
Harrell Co: The US “Government” means many things. After the federal government, we have 50 state governments, 3,000 regions — playing different roles in different parts of the country — and 20,000 municipalities.
Several parties are the owners of some of the data you own to find out if you are eligible in a particular location and to identify if you can get an appointment at a vaccine supply location. Not only governments, but also hospitals, clinics and pharmacies need agreements to share this data and make their systems work together, and they hardly do that.
After that, web design and accounting for people who don’t have web access can be an easy part.
Alexis Madrigal: Often, the real technology is not so complicated. The problem is the system under technology. When the federal government wants data that states don’t normally generate for their work, someone has to put that data into it. In emergencies, when everyone has to do it, it’s not a priority. Without a national health system, there is no easy way to follow tests or general cases.
Inheritance processes and systems, new vendors
Sha Hwang: I call working with legacy systems “software archeology”. The city’s infrastructure is like houses built before it existed, not built to connect to the city’s plumbing or to a power grid. It has taken 30 years to find a person who has been maintaining the system by updating a spreadsheet with millions of long rows with a crazy color coding system.
For new systems, there’s a phrase you hear a lot: government buyers want to “choke a throat” if something goes wrong. Big dealers like Deloitte and Accenture will bring in all the people needed for a project. But by outsourcing the potential fault, the agencies also leave all the technical experience. They are blocked. If the system fails, sellers who have made the hole will have to be confident to get out of it.
And Here: No one will be fired for hiring Deloitte or IBM. When vendors continue to receive the same kind of bad work, there is no incentive for the system not to build shit. Requests for proposals are often written by governments, so only one or a few vendors can accommodate them. “Whether the seller needs to work in a health care system that serves more than 500,000 people,” yes or no, “you can see a box.” I don’t care if that system exists, I want to know if people who use it hate it.
Liana Dragoman: Many services are designed around the functioning of the government in relation to the needs of the residents. If you are trying to obtain permission to use the football field, you should not know which department of Parks & Rec can grant you that specific permit. Residents just want to go to the city’s website and fill out the form.
Navigate a system that is complex in design
Same: There is a great deal of regulatory complexity in the distribution of vaccines. But the experience on the website or app is summarized as follows: “Why can’t I know if I have the right to be vaccinated? I just want an appointment. ‘