Accelerating Federal Digital Government in the Age of Trump (Industry Perspective)

The reality is that government customers expect anything they need to be available on any device they’re using, at any hour — no matter who is in the White House.

by Angela Fultz Nordstrom / November 11, 2016
President-elect Donald Trump, his wife Melania and Vice president-elect Mike Pence, meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. (AP/Alex Brandon)

It’s unclear how President Obama’s federal digital government programs may change after he leaves office. Though President-Elect Donald Trump recently said he would issue a technology policy once elected, how much would his technology focus matter?

The U.S. Digital Services team and 18F, the General Services Administration’s digital agency, already have changed the federal government conversation. As a tangible outgrowth of President Obama’s digital government strategy, issued in May 2012, agencies have responded by beginning internal dialogs about how they can use digital technologies to streamline interactions with constituents.

Digital helps fulfill government’s purpose

The federal government was established to serve people, a purpose it can achieve only if it constantly evaluates and responds to the ways constituents need and want to do business. A time-crunched citizenry has to periodically interact with government, and when government becomes more customer-centric, the people it serves develop greater trust, rather than dreading these exchanges as exhausting necessary evils.

The reality is that government customers expect anything they need to be available on any device they’re using, at any hour.

Almost everyone maintains a connection to the online world. While certain areas of the country still have limited Internet-at-home access, most individuals can interact online using smartphones. In the future, they may use beacons, such as Amazon Echo or similar devices — or technologies that haven’t even been conceived yet. Regardless of the preferred device, government must meet customers where they are and provide services at the time they’re needed.

Digital opportunities are boundless

The federal government has unlimited opportunities to become more efficient, more constituent-aware and more customer-friendly, reflecting what many of the states have been doing for the past 25 years. Because most federal processes still are based on traditional, paper-based systems, in many cases requiring someone to come to a counter or make a phone call to conduct business, those practices are an obvious place in which to focus the initial digital transformation.

Public lands are a good example of an area that, with bipartisan support, is embracing this change. At a late-September meeting with several dozen recreation permit holders, Joe Meade, the Forest Service’s national director of recreation, announced a shift toward modernizing the recreation permit process, including developing an online permitting process.

Tinnelle Bustam, the Forest Service’s assistant director of recreation, positioned it as a move toward becoming an agency of “yes-first,” in which a customer-service approach guides service delivery.

The recreational industry responded favorably to the announcement, expressing hope that funding would be available to the agency for implementation.

No-cost public-private partnerships eliminate the budget concern

Fortunately, tight budgets don’t have to decelerate federal digital government projects. A public-private partnership, especially with a company that has a long history of delivering digital services, can solve the challenge of constrained funding.

In the traditional model, a government agency defines a digital service it wants to launch, creates specs and issues an RFP. A responding company indicates what the cost will be to develop the service. Then, requirements or deployment needs change, and the agency is on the hook for funding the changes.

In a no-cost, transaction-based, public-private partnership, on the other hand, the private sector becomes government’s partner in delivering the service. The private company makes the investment in building the solution, then charges users a minimal efficiency fee. This puts the private company in the position of implementing state-of-the-art security and reinvesting in the service to continuously improve it for end users.

Solutions get delivered faster because the sooner the service is available, the sooner the private company begins recouping its investment. Customer service and end users’ needs are always top of mind, because if the private company doesn’t develop a service that gets used, it doesn’t get paid. Government is relieved of the responsibility to repeatedly find money in the budget to pay for changes or enhancements; the private company maintains and upgrades the service, including responding quickly to rule or legislative changes.

Several federal pioneer projects provide a road map for future digital government solutions:

  • The National Park System has implemented Your Pass Now, a pilot P3 program that lets visitors electronically purchase their entrance passes to certain national parks. Rather than requiring visitors to physically purchase paper passes at a ranger station or approved reseller, Your Pass Now gives visitors the convenience of acquiring their passes at the click of a button, whenever they want and wherever they are. Your Pass Now could be extended to U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sites and more to give visitors increased ease of access.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation provides pre-employment screening crash and inspection data online, giving the trucking industry the information it needs on prospective drivers, in the form and time frame needed. USDOT is considering making its recall notification process digital, as well. This move would advance cooperation between the private sector and multiple levels of government, making accurate vehicle ownership and recall information available through state and federal connection points. It also would allow vehicle owners to receive up-to-date recall information at a centralized website or through push notifications to their smartphones.

The landscape is right for federal digital government acceleration. Working with the private sector through a no-cost, transaction-based model, the federal government can fulfill its purpose — serving its customers efficiently and well — even after Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.

Angela Fultz Nordstrom is a vice president with NIC Inc. (NASDAQ: EGOV), the nation’s leading provider of innovative digital government solutions and secure payment processing services for more than 4,300 local, state and federal agencies across the United States. The company has partnered with government and deployed innovative digital government solutions for 24 years, and worked with the states of Maryland, Arkansas, Utah, Hawaii and Oregon to build and manage the solutions mentioned in this article. You may reach Nordstrom at angela@egov.com. More information about NIC is available at www.egov.com.