Manifesto for Digital Government

We believe that a new approach is needed to advance the U.S. federal government into the digital age and to reform federal information technology.

Although digital technology has enabled new ways for governments to interact with the public and accomplish their missions, the U.S. government has not kept pace. Our $80 billion of annual information technology spending does not produce $80 billion of value for the public. Instead of capitalizing on digital technology to revolutionize government engagement with the public and to foster government accountability, we have added layers of ineffective and slow-moving processes that are focused inwardly on our own policy and governance rather than outwardly on our responsibility to the public.

We believe in these principles:

  • Delivery is what matters. Plans, policies, politics are all less important than delivering results to the public we serve.
  • Speed is critical. The public expects government to be responsive, both to their needs and to emerging threats and opportunities. Multi-year projects are unacceptable.
  • Design services for the public. Our measure of success is how well we serve the public. We focus on the public’s needs rather than the government’s peculiarities.
  • Promote public interaction. Digital government is about the interface between the public and the government, and should encourage participation by the public.
  • Eliminate waste. We take a “lean” approach to eliminate wasteful processes that increase information technology costs and reduce government responsiveness.
  • Use best practices. The public has the right to expect that we are using the most up-to-date, contemporary practices to deliver digital services, including, for example, Agile and Lean approaches.
  • Treasure outside influences. We learn from technology companies, startups, foreign governments, academia and other sources outside the Beltway. Relying on approaches that are constantly recycled within the government and a small group of contractors is destructive.
  • Be bold and courageous. To be innovative, we must take some personal risks. Change is difficult, but we know that if we deliver we will have the support of the public and the media.
  • Be open. We can harness the creativity and passion of the American people through openness. If we explain our challenges they will find ways to solve them; if we open-source our code they will improve it; if we make our data public they will find ways to use it.

With these principles in mind, we can transform the way the US government serves its public, taking advantage of what the digital world has to offer. We can create a virtuous cycle where government interaction with the public leads to better government interaction with the public. And we can fulfill the promise of new technologies to make government more efficient, responsive, and accountable.

We are committed to this change.


3 thoughts on “Manifesto

  1. Joshua Seckel

    Concur and would love to sign this.
    Only minor quibble would be to change multiyear projects to multiyear deployment cycles are unacceptable.
    Of course, to actually have this come from government would require many edits and approvals and would probably extend it to a much longer document…


    1. marc

      Concur as well.
      While the concept is infused throughout the manifesto, I would love to see “Trust” clearly called out. Unfortunately, much of what we do as federal IT program managers is a response to a lack of “trust”. As an example, T&M type contracts are largely discouraged because we can’t be trusted to manage our resources and because we don’t trust our vendors to deliver so we try to know everything before we do anything which is impossible and anathema to embracing change.

      Second thought is around Incentives. All of the principles you refer to thrive in the private sector because the incentive to be efficient “can” be present across all participants in the value chain.

      There is a distinct lack of this in the federal government.

      As a PM, no external incentive to increase value. It is all intrinsic incentive. I make the same amount as the PM that is sloppy and wasteful. Also the competitor program that is wasteful gets any savings I create because “we never return unspent money”. Shouldn’t I get to re-invest that in my own program to scale vertically or horizontally into other markets.
      My vendors have no incentive to increase value because they make money by spending money and slapping on overhead. They aren’t paid for delivering value.
      My champions and sponsors (Congress) have no incentive to help me eliminate or re-purpose positions when they are wasteful because those represent votes in their district.. They can and do subpoena us when we try to close a wasteful initiative.
      My partners/suppliers in other Agencies lack incentive because frequently my mandate is funded for their Agency. The help me at cost to their own mission because it is the right thing or because they serve at the leisure of the Administration.
      My staff have little incentive because I do not have to tools to reward substantive differences in performance between someone just getting by and someone who is producing 3X value for the organization. Further there is no downside risk to taking a “just getting by” approach. .

      Bottom line is the Manifesto could reference that all participants across the supply chain will directly benefit from the the rewards created by creating a lean bureaucracy. Otherwise we are all doing it out of the goodness of our hearts, which is a “just good enough” motivation for me as a Fed. Unfortunately not everyone buys into that nor should they be required to in order to help improve the outcomes.

      All thoughts and opinions are my own and not representative of my agency or the federal government at all. I make these statements as a private citizen.

      Keepin’ it lean.


      1. markschwartz2014 Post author

        Thanks for the comments. I agree with both points. “Trust” is a very nuanced area that I want to talk about in future posts, and the linkage with Time and Materials contracts is an important question. On the contracting side, I think we do build a lot of extra costs into our contracts and contracting process because we start from a position of distrust (contract terms, award fees, reporting requirements, etc.). Of course, risk mitigation has value. But from a lean perspective we should ask whether the costs balance the risks, and whether there are more cost-effective and time-effective ways to reduce the risks. Incentives – hmm, tough area. I’m not sure I have good intuitions yet on how to address that.

        Liked by 1 person

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