Last week the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, resigned — standard operating procedures in politics and business after a “scandal” or “failure.”
In this case the obvious failure was the rollout of the healthcare.gov website, which Sebelius oversaw. On the first day the site went live, there were 2.8 million visitors. Unfortunately many of them were unable to complete the enrollment process due to technical difficulties.
The scandal, however, is much less visible to the American people: the only way to overcome failure is to “let go” of somebody who made a mistake. It seems that any failure, avoidable or inevitable, results in resignation instead of reform, especially in politics.
In this case, Sebelius resigned. But the website failure is not really her fault.
The problem, crisis even, is actually far larger than any one person on the federal or even state level. It is an institutional crisis, one that prevents governments from effectively integrating technology in governance.
Recently Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, wrote a piece for the HuffPost where he cited technology-related improvement projects in California that were completely abandoned, after millions were spent on them.
The California courts dismissed a $2 billion dollar project to improve electronic files, which would make government more efficient, and likely save money in the long haul.
Another project would have modernized the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ 40-year-old technology infrastructure. But that project was terminated after $135 million was spent.
Newsom writes, “According to the California’s Department of Technology, dozens of projects are pending or on hold for review.” Or, in other words, stuck in a bureaucratic system which stifles innovation.
In 2012, California launched online voting registration. This should not have taken this long. Still, to this day, only 16 states allow online voter registration. A study from UC Berkeley reveals that online voter registration empowers lower to middle income people.
Government should be more in the business of making applications and user-friendly websites rather than spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a confusing bureaucratic process with lots of paperwork. Doing so will improve access to information, improve efficiency, and create a more collaborative and open government.
The Obama administration has made earnest efforts to modernize our technology infrastructure nationally, but not within government. Some recent accomplishments include a modernized patent system, and a $7 billion investment for expanded broadband.
Without question, the Obama administration has placed a greater emphasis on technology via social networks and blogs. Prior to this administration, neither blogs nor social networks were utilized by the White House to connect with people. The first of its kind online petitioning platform — We The People — was incorporated into the White House site.
But more needs to be done.
What if the Federal government had a one-stop website for services and help? One site that has information on how to claim certain tax credits, or how access to certain grants, and how to request a passport — an Amazon of sorts, but for government, and for the people.
Currently, to seek information on each of those three topics you have to visit three separate and perplexing .gov sites.
The Obama administration should not sweep the institutional failures that plagued the health care website under the carpet through a mere resignation. We need to go a step further and seek reform and improvement of our country’s aged technology infrastructure.
The government is far overdue for a technological reinvention.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com.