NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Digital Systems Can Remake Government

June 14, 2013

Partisan officials, policymakers and commentators remain transfixed by how much government should tax, spend and redistribute. President Obama argues that higher taxes will result in greater equity and Republicans say reducing deficit spending is only fair to the future generations who will foot the bill. This debate ignores a fundamental problem on which people across the ideological spectrum should agree: regardless of tax and spending levels, government as currently organized is too cumbersome to be effective, says Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Although it might sound like a bad joke, government could in fact be better, faster and cheaper. The assumptions of the last 100 years of progressive governance and the production model on which they are based no longer apply. Today's technological advancements can power a digital government revolution and offer the opportunity for truly transformative changes.

  • Digital systems are replacing paper ones; data analytics, cloud computing and data mining can combine and examine data in disparate systems.
  • Handheld devices allow field workers to solve problems independently and collectively.
  • Social networking allows citizens to participate in problem solving in new and dramatic ways.
  • Technology can renew citizen engagement, allow employees to work across their verticals, and facilitate the work of scientists utilizing data and analytics to prevent problems before they occur.

The United States will see real results when four straightforward changes occur in how government:

  • Engages its own workforce.
  • Regulates the marketplace.
  • Involves the private sector.
  • Incorporates the wisdom of its citizens.

Where state and local officials apply these reforms, government does in fact increase its productivity and responsiveness.

Red tape needs to literally go away; government no longer needs to pass a folder from office to office, accept a piece of paper or spend time hunting for a record. Digital systems can remake this approach.

Source: Stephen Goldsmith, "How Government Can Effectively Produce Better, Faster Cheaper Results," Economics for the 21st Century, Summer 2013. 


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