Defense Spending Bill Paves Way for Government Efficiency and TransparencyBy Adam Karides
The Senate recently approved its whopping $700 billion defense spending bill for 2018. While heavy spending on defense is hardly news, the 655 amendments packed into it can provide insight into the direction of our country’s investment of taxpayer dollars. Two particular amendments raise unique curiosity in terms of improving government services through modern technology adoption and a more open and collaborative approach to engaging with citizens. While the OPEN Government Data Act mandates agencies to publish their information on freely accessible and machine-readable formats, the IT Modernization Bill aims to increase efficiency by encouraging agencies to upgrade its Information Technology (IT) systems.
OPEN Government Act Requires Open and AI Compatible Federal Data
One of the many amendments included in this mammoth bill is the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Act, a testament to the government’s efforts to publish its information online in a safe and secure manner. Building off the executive order signed by President Obama, which carved out the data.gov repository, the OPEN Government Act reinforces this push for open data and the overarching Open Government Initiative. Specifically, this legislation requires all federal agencies to publish their information for public access and do so in machine-readable formats. The benefits of this amendment are twofold: mandating open data can spur engagement and possible collaboration opportunities from the public, while requiring machine readability opens the door for artificial intelligence systems to shoulder routine operations and thus promote greater efficiency.
IT Modernization Bill Aims to Boost Efficiency Through Incentives
While the OPEN Government Act calls for a sweeping reform in the way the government circulates its information, it lacks specific reference to the infrastructure upgrades necessary to support an open data culture. Fortunately, the Senate also passed the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act as part of the defense spending bill. Since the government are not as bottom-line oriented as businesses, motivating agencies and departments to update its technology poses a challenge. However, the MGT Act creates an incentive program that motivates government Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to save money similarly to private enterprises striving to maximize profits. In particular, the amendment carves out capital funds for agencies to stash money saved through IT upgrades, which can then be used to reinvest in technology and innovation at their discretion. Also, to help jumpstart these efforts, the bill provides a centralized fund for agencies to make initial investments in modern IT. According to Congressman Will Hurd, who sponsored and authored this bill before it reached the Senate, these incentives “will allow the government to harness cutting-edge technologies, use each dollar more efficiently, strengthen our digital infrastructure and enhance government services for everyone.” The MGT Act not only encourages efficiency through technology improvements that cut costs and streamline operations. It is also a mechanism for overhauling outdated IT systems the government still relies on to ultimately better serve its citizens.
These amendments will work hand-in-hand to not only modernize the government’s infrastructure, but also support greater public participation. The tools and approaches introduced by these pieces of legislation will save money, hasten government operations, and foster public-private collaboration to better serve its citizens. However, these efforts are just the tip of the spear for promoting a more transparent, responsive, and accountable government through digital technologies.