Restoring Americans’ Trust in Government by Modernizing Government Technology
One of America’s greatest strengths is the constant innovation our people and businesses bring to the world through new technology platforms and practices. Over the past several years, we’ve seen technologies disrupt and create entire marketplaces, change the way people communicate, and introduce new ways to express views.
Yet when it comes to the federal government’s ability to respond to the people it serves, agencies are hampered by reliance on technologies that are, in some cases, decades old. Aging government systems grow more vulnerable to cyberthreats. And with different platforms, it is often impossible for agencies to interact, making it harder to root out fraud or facilitate digital collaboration.
Last week, partnering with the Obama administration, I introduced legislation to address these problems in an innovative way.
The Information Technology Modernization Act will transform how government serves the American people by investing in rapidly upgrading technology systems, making service delivery more efficient and increasing government transparency. It will also strengthen our cybersecurity defenses, protecting the private information of taxpayers and program beneficiaries.
Instead of appropriating vast sums annually on slow, incremental upgrades, as has been done in the past, this legislation uses a novel approach that has proved successful and cost-effective in the private sector. I’ve been working on this bill with U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, who implemented a similar program when he was chief information officer at Microsoft. It was successful and achieved significant cost savings over the long term.
Here’s how it works. From a single upfront investment of $3 billion in a new Information Technology Modernization Fund, an independent review board of technology and cybersecurity experts would award grants to agencies for rapid, large-scale, whole-system upgrades. Awards would be made based on need and on the potential impact on improving service, increasing efficiency and strengthening cybersecurity.
The board would also ensure that every project adopts the latest best practices from Silicon Valley, including shared services, cloud hosting and agile development. Once an upgrade is completed, the agency would begin paying back into the fund using the savings achieved by making its systems more efficient.
In such a way, just $3 billion invested today could sustain at least $12 billion worth of upgrades by 2026 — and continue supporting modernization in perpetuity. No longer would technology upgrades be subject to the annual political scuffles of the congressional appropriations process.
Americans deserve a government that is responsive, effective, transparent and secure. Moreover, bringing agencies’ technology systems into the 21st century will help renew Americans’ trust in government, which is unfortunately at historic lows.
My legislation complements House Democrats’ Make It In America plan, which holds that government ought to be on the side of American workers and businesses trying to get ahead by ensuring they have the tools needed to compete in a changing economy. This begins by making government as transparent and responsive as possible.
The Information Technology Modernization Act has already received some Republican support, with former Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., co-sponsoring. It will build on bipartisan efforts I’ve led to update Congress’ use of technology and make legislative data more transparent. I hope others will join me in making this investment today so our nation can reap the benefits to our economy and our people’s faith in their government for years to come.
This Op-Ed originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.