Silicon Valley has been roused from slumber in the election’s wake. A number of interesting organizations and movements have emerged from the tech industry in the past few weeks, including the Never Again pledge from over 2,300 tech workers, who refuse to comply with the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. There’s the recent pledge from tech CEOs and entrepreneurs to support civil liberties, and the Economic Security Project, a multi-stakeholder effort focused on exploring a universal basic income.
Many in the Valley viewed their work as self-fulfilling: By making amazing startups, we checked the box on civic responsibility. The classic example: when a Facebook worker didn’t make time to see Obama speak, remarking “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make.”
Under Barack Obama, many idealistic tech-industry types — virtuosi of code, data wizards, interface gurus, and project pros — decamped to D.C. to put their skills to work for the government. What will happen to these efforts to improve the public sector’s use of information technology with the onset of the Trump administration?
“Massive IT failures do not have a party preference,” writes open-government activist David Eaves (NewCo Shift), in a plea to technologists on both sides of the partisan fence to work together and not “blow up” progress that’s already taken place.
Across Washington, the country, and the world, the assumptions people have about various programs, policies and roles have been radically altered in the last 12 hours with the victory of President-Elect Trump. Many of my students and colleagues have asked me — what does this mean for the future of United States Digital Service and 18F? What should it mean?
This is not the most important question facing the administration. But for those of us in this space the question matters. Intensely. And we need a response. USDS and 18F improve how Americans interact with their government while saving significant amounts of money. Democrats and Republicans may disagree over the size of government, but there is often less disagreement over whether a service should be effectively and efficiently delivered. Few in either party believe a veteran should confront a maze of forms or confusing webpages to receive a service. And, the fact is, massive IT failures do not have a party preference. They have and will continue to burn any government without a clear approach of how to address them.
“Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.” — President Barack Obama
Public service is championed across many professions. In law, clerking for a federal judge is considered an important part in many lawyers’ careers. Doctors across the country compete for prestigious research and policy roles within government. Their contributions have pushed us forward and made our country stronger. And they’ve become better lawyers and doctors as a result. Now, there’s a huge opportunity for far more technologists to improve the way government serves Americans everywhere. To make vital services like healthcare and benefits more accessible for millions. To add our voice to policy debates on issues of national or local importance. To accelerate our progress and remain the world’s leader in innovative thinking. But this won’t happen on its own.
The first and most important step is for techies to get engaged. This can take a lot of different forms. It can include getting involved in our local communities. Or it could mean applying your rarefied skills as an engineer, designer, UX researcher, product manager (you get the idea) in collaboration with other experts to make the country work better. Our involvement in the future of our country is crucial.