While many inside the Beltway are still chattering about the future of government, agency CIOs and program managers are focused on building the government of the future. This embrace of forward thinking was on full display at FedScoop’s Government of the Future event recently held in Pentagon City, VA.
If you just glanced quickly at the agenda, you could be forgiven for thinking that the event was just about next-generation technology and government mandates, like FITARA, that support acquisition and implementation. Clearly these do matter. After all, without shifting data and services to the cloud, without applying big data to solve today’s most important challenges, and without more robust cyber security to ensure the integrity of both systems and information, government will not be able to do fulfill its most basic roles. But that is only part of the story.
So, when you think about it, what is needed to create the government of the future is really a change in perspective. It’s not about building the most modern IT infrastructure; it’s about how agencies can use IT to facilitate the secure delivery of high quality, on-demand services to citizens and agency constituents in the most cost effective manner. Looking at the emerging federal IT infrastructure from this perspective should surely give agency CIOs a little bit of hope. Because in amongst the challenges of continuing flat budgets, staffing limitations, rising citizen expectations, and the ever shortening technology life cycles that make even the GSA a little anxious, there are reasons to believe that delivering the government of the future is still possible.
But for all the talk about the future, it’s clear that some agencies are well on their way there right now. From constantly improving citizen-engagement and service delivery programs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to the mature e-filing patent system at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) agencies that are putting IT to work to meet citizens where they are and deliver on the mission more successfully. For example, just ten years ago, 95 percent of all patent filings were submitted on paper via the mail. Today that number has flipped and 95 percent of initial patent filings are submitted online via the EFS-Web e-filing system. In addition to reducing the processing time and enhancing quality through e-filing and other new systems, USPTO has improved access to the searchable databases and big data sets that help inventors and lawyers – two of the USPTO’s primary constituents — access the information they need for patent applications, reviews, and legal case work.
For other agencies, like DHS and VA, where the constituents are more diverse, both in how they use the systems and in terms of geographical location, becoming future-focused has been more difficult. Nonetheless, you can see that agency leaders have embraced the right citizen-centric mindset. DHS is working hard to get their Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) right. The VA is improving services to veterans through the MyVA program. MyVA didn’t start from the point of view of what services the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted to deliver to America’s veterans, but instead started with asking the question about how does a veteran want to do business with the agency? From there, with a firm commitment to customer service excellence and to providing veterans and their families with a unified experience, the team at the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun to roll-out a system that is genuinely meeting its mission in myriad ways.
Putting the end user first and then finding the technology to support that mission is a really important culture change within much of the federal government, particularly impacts CIOs and their teams. When this perspective is embraced, building the government of the future is no longer primarily a constant drive to purchase the newest technology to update systems. Instead, it’s about putting the citizen service mission first implementing the processes and technology that make that possible and moving forward with confidence…and within budget.
Robert F. Hahn II, Ph.D. is President of Government Solutions at Reed Tech. Prior to joining Reed Tech, Dr. Hahn worked at Serco Inc., Pitney Bowes Inc. and served 21 years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He’ll be writing a monthly column for FTI focusing on the challenges and possibilities that federal agencies face as they embark on citizen-centric IT modernization projects. Next month he’ll be sharing his best practices for modernization with us. Why not sign up so you never miss Dr. Hahn’s insights!