Commentary

07/16/2013  by Alexandra Bjerg

President Obama pushes for smarter government to boost effectiveness


The President laying out his New Management Agenda for smarter government (Courtesy of the White House)

Last week President Obama laid out a vision for greater government efficiency directing his Cabinet to build a “smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government for its citizens.” By leveraging technology, transparency, and private sector know-how, Obama hopes “to allow more citizens to participate in their democracy, and bring a government built largely in the 20th century into the 21st century.” 

“As anyone knows,” Obama explained at the White House, “dealing with the government is not always high-technology and it’s not always user-friendly,” which is why the President wants to “redesign” government to make it “smarter, quicker, and more responsive.”

My immediate (and clearly tongue-in-cheek) reaction was to suspect the National Security Agency of wiretapping California Forward’s conference calls. For years we’ve been urging all levels of government in California to do exactly what Obama is calling for at the federal level. 

“Making sure that we’re delivering services better, faster, more efficiently” is the goal of the President’s new second term management agenda. “Taxpayers deserve the biggest bang for their buck,” Obama said, “especially at a time when budgets are tight and we’ve got to do a lot more with less.”

The Golden State hears you, Mr. President. Our state budget may be back in black, but years of deep cuts to services and programs has left California taxpayers feeling like they’re not getting their money’s worth, creating a deep sense of distrust of government. 

Applying the federal government’s use of technology to enhance transparency here in California would improve governance and repair the relationship between the public and their government. 

Despite being home to Silicon Valley, California Forward’s analysis of the state of transparency in California finds that, overall, California’s open government infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th century. 

While our legislature isn’t one to outlaw all computers and smartphones -- ahem, Florida — giving California’s transparency laws and government technology a much needed facelift hasn’t appeared on the list of priorities in Sacramento. 

Officials argue that although technology upgrades are long overdue, as programs and agencies fight for a slice of a shrinking budget pie few crumbs remain to fund such costly projects. 

The initial price tag associated with a shift toward technology-driven transparency may be large, but the move can foster greater accountability and improve governance, in turn saving taxpayer money in the long-term. 

There’s tremendous value that can be gleaned from government data that is accessible online, searchable, machine-readable, and published with context. Streamlining access to user-friendly government data equips voters with tools to hold leaders accountable to results, provides public officials with information that improves decision-making, and spurs civic innovation. 

[See our interview with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on the importance of open data HERE]

“For the first time in history, we’ve opened up huge amounts of government data to the American people, and put it on the Internet for free,” Obama said. “Entrepreneurs and business owners are now using that to create jobs and solve problems that government can’t solve by itself or can’t do as efficiently.”

The public sector doesn’t have all the answers, so let’s capitalize on California’s deep entrepreneurial spirit and robust high-tech sector to modernize government and generate innovative solutions that reduce waste and increase government effectiveness. Especially during this time of fiscal restraint. 

A handful of Presidential Innovation Fellows, tasked with making government smarter and more user-friendly by using their skills from the private sector, hail from the Golden State. Rather than send these experts to D.C., we should encourage them to push for innovation here under the dome and at City Hall. 

Government, like any business, must make sure it keeps pace with the times, Obama said. Even cash strapped municipalities can modernize and streamline government by partnering with tech experts, adopting private sector ideas, and embracing technology-based transparency. 

By improving accessibility through use of technology, governments can put open data to work to identify ways to improve performance and deliver quality services at a lower cost helping rebuild the public’s trust. 

But acknowledging that removing barriers to public access to government data alone doesn’t inherently make government more inclusive, effective, and accountable, Obama said: “Government belongs to us, and it’s up to each of us and every one of us to make it work better.” 

It’s up to us as citizens to engage and unlock the data’s potential to make government smarter. “We can’t just stand on the sidelines.  We can’t take comfort in just being cynical.  We all have a stake in government success -- because the government is us.” 

Categories: Governance Reform, Transparency

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