The Government Wants to Bolster Its Tech—Starting With Workers

The General Services Administration is among the many lesser-known arms of US authorities, but it surely has shocking attain. It owns or leases greater than 370 million sq. ft of workplaces and different services on behalf of different federal businesses, and in addition offers automobiles and IT providers. Its authorities tech help is a selected precedence of President Biden’s choose to lead the company, Robin Carnahan.

Robin Carnahan

Photograph: General Services Administration

Carnahan, confirmed by the Senate in June, beforehand labored at 18F, a tech group arrange inside GSA by the Obama administration to modernize authorities expertise. In a current dialog with Tom Simonite, she mentioned plans to clean on-line entry to authorities providers and lure extra tech expertise. An edited transcript follows.

Many folks have leaned extra closely on the web through the pandemic. Has that made it extra apparent that digital authorities wants to enhance?

It has, as a result of everybody noticed it so clearly. After Congress rapidly handed the multitrillion-dollar CARES Act that funded unemployment advantages, governors had to clarify why folks could not get them. The expertise was the barrier—this digital infrastructure has been underinvested in for many years.

At the identical time there was large funding from Congress. [The Covid-19 stimulus package included $1 billion for technology modernization.] It’s thrilling to have each momentum and cash on the identical time.

Where do you propose to make investments?

It is smart to make a fairly large guess in providers shared between many businesses, like login and identification verification. GSA has a service known as, which is already in use by 30 million folks. It simply received an enormous funding from the modernization fund and we hope within the subsequent yr that we will up that quantity to 100 million.

About 27 completely different businesses already use—some fairly large, like Social Security—and we’re speaking to much more. You can think about how way more handy it may very well be when you simply had a single login for all of your interactions with the federal government.

People log in to all types of providers on-line. Why is it tougher to construct for presidency?

One large distinction in authorities is that you’ve to create techniques that work for everybody, not simply people who have good credit score scores or which have lively financial institution accounts. Many folks most in want of presidency providers don’t have these.

There is different infrastructure we will leverage as authorities: The US Postal Service and the Veterans Administration have areas all around the nation. These are federal businesses that we may collaborate with to confirm identification for individuals who want to present up in individual.

Some state governments, such as California, adopted face recognition to confirm identification for providers like unemployment advantages. But there are stories of issues with accuracy, and considerations about privateness.

Automation that we will get from artificial intelligence is a factor that we’re going to use when it is acceptable, however we’re going to be cautious about it and perceive what biases there is likely to be.

You don’t have any concrete plans?


One motive authorities expertise has a poor repute is that probably the most gifted technologists usually work in trade. Groups like 18F, the place you labored earlier than, and the US Digital Service, place tech staff on short-term “tours of duty” in authorities. How else are you able to appeal to star techies?

We want plenty of completely different technologists: folks with expertise, but additionally people who need to make authorities their profession. We simply introduced a program known as Digital Corps for early profession people who need to have the opportunity to use their expertise expertise in authorities. We did not have an excellent on-ramp for that earlier than.

The Biden administration could be very targeted on this as a result of it’s tremendous clear that unhealthy supply sinks good coverage. To have the opportunity to ship something, we now have to have the tech expertise within the room in the beginning of the dialogue, not bolted on on the finish.

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