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What Would You Change About Government?

Governments could improve by pushing more information to constituents, entering into strategic partnerships with industry more easily and cooperating more broadly for the betterment of society, to name a few things.

By Colin Wood

It's been said often that government is behind industry in many ways, that the public sector needs to change -- and for a handful of government officials, industry players and citizens who've connected with government at hackathons, there are some concrete changes they'd like to see.

If You Could Change One Thing About Government ...

Take Dahl Winters, a Colorado-based research and development scientist and recent winner at Google’s first GovDev Challenge, who would change the fact that government seems so far away.

"I would like the government to be a little closer to me in terms of how I interact with it," he said. "In order to find any information at all, I have to search on the Web, and go to a government website and find this and find that. It’s just so far removed from me other than when I go to vote," which he said is basically the only government interaction he has.

In that same vein, Kelly Shuster, a Colorado-based software developer and first place winner of Google’s first GovDev Challenge, said she would change increased transparency in terms of "it being what we call a push system instead of a pull system," she said. "I think a lot of society right now is just used to that -- people get their news that way, people get a lot of things that way.

And right now, she added, state and local governments are still acting on a pull notification where the citizen has to make a rather large effort to find the information, "like, ‘When is the city council meeting?’ ‘When is this bill up for discussion?’" she said. "I think it would be really cool if government could shift to a push notification system. Have your pieces of information that you’re interested in in any state or local initiative and anything you’re interested in, you’d get a ping for that and it wouldn’t be so hard to find that information.”

In New York City, Anne Roest, appointed May 6 as the commissioner of the Big Apple’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), said public-sector officials must be able to enter into strategic partnerships with industry more easily.

"If you compare with the private sector, they’re able to partner between organizations when they need to augment their staff or augment their skills, and they are able to do it quickly," she said. "It’s pretty interesting and dynamic, because people will partner with one organization one week, and another one the next week and it all depends on what they need to get done."

But in government, it takes much more effort to create those partnerships, she said, because of procurement rules, fiscal rules and oversight. "We can’t just say, ‘I want to partner with IBM.’ We have to go through some competitive procurement or contract. For the most part, I think industry would love to be helpful, but we just can’t do it.”

For Minnesota Rep. Joe Atkins, the most frustrating thing is "the partisan rancor that seems to be taking over, even at the local government level," he said. "It used to be an issue we pointed to the feds [about], but we’re starting to see the big money and players find their way into state legislatures and even into local politics. And I don’t think that’s terribly healthy for the process."

But that being said, 96 percent of votes in the Minnesota House of Representatives this session were bipartisan in nature, he noted. "So I think we still agree on most stuff.”

 

In Loveland, Colo., Christine Schraeder, an electrical engineer with the city's Department of Water and Power, would ask for broader cooperation -- "that we all just calm down and get things done for the better of our society, and in our local communities as well," she said, adding that she does she a fair amount of cooperation at the local level. "On the state level, there’s a little bit more politics being played. On the community level, everybody wants essentially the same goals. We might have different ideas about how to get there, but I think on a community level, we’re very effective at working together.”

 

And for Philip Gordon, attorney and chair of the Privacy and Data Protection Practice Group of Littler Mendelson, a global employment and labor law firm, “The one thing I would change is the over-emphasis on ideology and the lack of sufficient emphasis on pragmatism – just getting problems solved," he said. "There’s just too many people out there grandstanding and using the legislative process to make an ideological statement. And the legislative process should be more about solving the taxpayers’ problems, and that’s not happening.”

Senior Writer Brian Heaton contributed to this story.

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