The Government’s Failure to Keep Up With Technology Is Hurting All of Us

It hobbles the economy and contributes to Americans’ distrust of government.

Technology is evolving at warp speed. The chips are faster, the gadgets are smaller and data circles the globe in an instant. We need a federal government that can keep pace.

Americans introduced the world to the Internet, microprocessors and the cell phone, but much of the federal government is at least a generation behind the private sector in harnessing the power of data and technology.  

At a recent event sponsored by the White House Office of American Innovation, Jared Kushner noted that the Defense Department still uses floppy disks on some of its legacy systems. In 2017. That’s unacceptable. And there’s recently been a push to train more computer coders in COBOL and Fortran given the large number of government systems still using those antiquated languages.

The slow adoption of new technology does not just add to bureaucratic backlogs. It restrains our economy and creates inefficiencies in companies regulated by the government. It’s not uncommon for businesses to have to report the same information to multiple agencies in different formats with slight variations—leading to increased costs and wasted hours. In many cases, the government still requires companies to file paper reports, making the information hard to find and even harder to review. And once agencies receive the information, they often lack the technology to fully analyze it.

As part of the newly-formed Coalition for Regulatory Innovation, FiscalNote is teaming up with organizations from a wide range of sectors to bring the federal government into the 21st century.     

It doesn’t have to be difficult. There are simple ways to streamline communication and improve the working relationship between the private sector and the elected officials and agencies that regulate it. But that dialogue depends on greater transparency so both sides know what the other is doing.

The general lack of public trust in government can be directly traced to citizens not being adequately informed of how their government operates, or what it is working on. Embracing the value of data and making it publicly available can start to rectify this problem.

Platforms like FiscalNote make government data—once a monopoly controlled by lobbyists—available to any organization that seeks it. By accessing aggregated and organized data on legislation, regulations and government filings from thousands of federal, state and local agencies, organizations are better equipped to understand and identify the impact of government activity. The democratization of data helps to promote fairness and objectivity, and can ultimately lead to more sound policy objectives.

Another way to make data more readily available is to change the way it is gathered and disseminated.  

Making meaningful investments in our technological infrastructure is a major step toward achieving that end. So is adopting a fully digital and universal reporting standard, which would streamline the process. Instead of sending variations of data in unique formats to different agencies, companies could report all their requested data at once.  Once the government processes the data, the information could be made easily searchable for the public since it’s already in a singular, digital format.  

This would increase transparency, slash costs, and save companies billions that can be invested in other areas, such as hiring or research and development.  

And it has a proven track record. Australia adopted a policy of “standard business reporting” and saved over $1 billion annually. Companies are now able to complete multiple regulatory requirements simultaneously while regulators can eliminate duplicative reporting systems and share information.  Simple math shows that if the U.S. adopted a similar system, it could lead to $15 billion in savings per year.  

As more data becomes available, we can harness its value and use it to our advantage. More transparency will provide citizens with a better understanding of the regulatory process and the inner workings of government, which in turns strengthens trust in our public institutions. As Silicon Valley continues to innovate at breakneck speed, we can’t leave the federal government behind.  

Tim Hwang is founder and chief executive officer of FiscalNote.