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7 Consumer Websites that Should Inspire Government Solutions

Why is there no Amazon, Yelp, Zipcar or Craigslist for government?

There once was a time when the best technology existed in government. You could not afford a computer at home but you had one at work. And if you owned a computer, you had dial-up at home but fast Internet at your government job.

Consumer technology has advanced so fast that sometimes I look at the tools we have in government and am amazed at how far behind they are compared to what we use in our daily personal lives.

It’s easy to sit and complain, so instead I thought I’d list seven websites that I believe government could model to solve core mission problems:

Zipcar — I love Zipcar. When I lived in D.C., I didn’t own a car so I used Zipcar to reserve a vehicle for an hour or two when I had to run errands. It was much cheaper, environmentally friendly and convenient. When I observe large government fleets, I wonder why there isn’t a Zipcar for government. Far too often government cars sit around unused and the reservation process is cumbersome. A simple Zipcar for government would make it easy to book a car, save lots of money and maximize fleet usage.

Amazon/Yelp for Government — When I buy a toaster, I go to Amazon and see hundreds of toasters, various prices and hundreds of reviews. If I’m looking for a restaurant, I use my Yelp app and can easily find the three most recommended eateries within five miles of my location. Why do I have more information and choices when buying a $20 toaster than when hiring a consulting company or buying a content management system? Why does government still conduct procurements the way it did in 1975? Yes, we must make sure we buy in the spirit of government regulations to ensure transparency, equality and competitiveness — but there must be a better way. An Amazon or Yelp for government would enable officials to see the various offerings for sale, how much they cost and reviews from people who used them.

Google/1-800-ASK-GARY — A friend and I recently debated the difference between apple turnovers and apple strudels. The problem was solved in 30 seconds with Google. If I get in a car accident, I know I can call one of 50 different 1-800-ASK-GARY-style companies and get a human in 30 seconds with free advice on how to proceed and information on lawyers. In government, I always wished I had a help line or, like in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a lifeline to call for advice. If you’re facing a problem at work, there should be a place you can call for advice on how others have addressed it — whether that’s Google or 1-800-ASK-GARY with a human at the other end. At GovLoop, it has been great to see our 50,000 government members leverage one another in this way to solve problems by asking questions about a technology solution or dealing with a management challenge.

— Say you’ve outgrown your old clothes or you have baby clothes in spades, but your child is now 7 years old. You have a million choices for donating to charity, swapping with neighbors via sites like Freecycle, or auctioning or selling the goods on websites like eBay and Craigslist. Now what does government do if it has extra goods, services, building space or capacity? Usually it goes unused. Governments should have their own Freecycle/Craigslist where certain goods can be easily swapped or sold to other jurisdictions or agencies.

As we move to Gov2020, we must change our processes and technology to ensure we keep up with how we make decisions in our personal life. Think about how you live and make decisions, whether buying a new house, finding a babysitter, getting weather news or communicating with a friend. It’s radically evolved in the last 20 years through user reviews, Web-based solutions, mobile applications and real-time solutions.

Government problem-solving should be no different and should use these ideas, processes and technologies to solve mission-critical problems.

So what do you think — what are your inspirations that you wish to replicate in government?


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.