News media regularly brings forth stories that reflect poor performance and execution on the part of the “bureaucrats.” Congress, on numerous occasions, hauls agency leaders before it to explain why their agencies have failed the American people.
Yet daily, many government activities move forward without much difficulty and are even quite successful in serving the nation despite the many hindrances placed on federal workers. In this article, I would like to focus on the severe technological limitations that confront most agencies every day.
Thanks to budgetary constraints or lengthy acquisition processes, many agencies lag one or two generations behind the latest office technology. While in our homes, feds probably have the latest and greatest software and hardware, in the federal workplace, many of us cope with out-of-date computers. In some cases, Windows XP is the next upgrade federal employees can expect. This product is so old Microsoft has already announced that it will soon discontinue Windows XP support.
The technology lag greatly hinders the government’s ability to offer the American public services produced in an efficient manner. It also frustrates the civil servants trying to accomplish their jobs.
Perhaps we should establish an organization that delivers the information technology needs of the entire federal community. After all, criticism has been repeatedly leveled that the various agencies too often pursue their own IT plans to the detriment of a cohesive whole.
One project began rolling out several years ago in the Department of Defense to establish the Navy Marine Corps Internet, or NMCI. This program has its vocal supporters and an equal number of detractors as to how well it has performed. In many ways it did standardize the software and hardware portfolios of the agencies involved, but several weaknesses were revealed in the limitations of the approved products. The overall NMCI effort is tilting toward below average—just as the Navy looks to a new enterprise system to replace NMCI.
As the 21st century unfolds, the government’s strength will be determined partly by the service capabilities it deploys to meet the needs of the public. Quick response is an expectation that is severely hampered by a weak information technology infrastructure.
For years the Federal Aviation Administration has struggled with maintenance of an air traffic control system that always seems to be challenged to the point of major breakdowns. Recent stories on widespread delays in flights caused by computer failures highlight the fact that key elements of inherently governmental services are in need of attention.
I am sure each agency could tell its own story of information technology woes. That’s why I believe Congress and the president must establish an office that directs a consistent and well-planned program to upgrade computers to meet the needs of our government.
As the government transitions to a new administration in January, there are several issues the elected officials and the workforce must address. First, we need a serious discussion about what services performed by civil servants are inherently governmental. Once those services are determined, a commitment must follow to equip them with an IT infrastructure to bring service quality up to 21st century standards.
Second, Congress must invest in the agencies to ensure the functions determined to be essential are delivered efficiently to the public.
I’d like to hear from you regarding what services you believe are “inherently governmental.” If you work as a civil servant, what technology do you feel would enhance your ability to serve the public?
Your voice is essential to ensuring that government provides services that meet people’s expectations. Any improvement we make to the IT supporting government will make this great democracy even stronger.