Administrator Carnahan gives remarks on tech modernization at the US Chamber of Commerce
February 2, 2023
REMARKS AS PREPARED
Thank you, Chandler, for that introduction. Thanks also to Jordan Crenshaw and the US Chamber of Commerce for inviting me. It's great to be here. I appreciate the chance to speak at this first-ever Digital Transformation Summit.
You’ve got an impressive lineup of speakers from both government and the private sector, which speaks volumes about the critical role digital transformation is and will continue to play in all of our lives.
I want to start by congratulating you on publishing your recent report on Government Digitization: Transforming Government to Better Serve Americans. It does a terrific job of highlighting many of the challenges and opportunities we’re facing as a government when it comes to delivering services to the people we serve in ways that are better, faster, and cheaper.
The bottomline is…these days people’s trust in government depends on government’s ability to deliver. And since so many people rely on technology in their everyday lives to deposit checks, call a ride, or even order a pair of shoes as you're walking down the street, that means it’s the job of not just those of us in government but also all of you who are our industry partners, to make sure government delivers. And that means, making the damn websites work.
Since my days as Missouri Secretary of State, I’ve understood that in many ways government is basically a service delivery business. And what we’ve seen too often, especially in recent years during the pandemic, is that bad technology and delivery sinks good policy.
We all saw that. The pandemic exposed just how antiquated and ill-equipped our technology systems were to meet that moment…a time when millions of Americans looked to the government for help.
From small business loans to unemployment checks, to food and housing benefits and Covid tests, all of those were delayed or misused because of hard to update and hard to use technology systems. Besides that, these systems just weren’t prepared for the sheer volume of traffic as folks stayed home and tried to manage their lives online.
The silver lining in all of this is that we learned a lot of valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to improving digital service delivery.
That makes now a perfect time to rethink the way we’re doing this work and how we can be smarter about acting on the learnings of the past few years to prepare us to do better in the future.
Today I want to talk about 3 of those learnings, we now apply everyday across the government.
- Focusing on customers and ways to improve their experience;
- Sharing and reusing tech tools rather than reinventing the wheel; and
- Funding and procuring tech tools and services in smarter ways.
So let me talk for a few minutes about each of those things and what the Biden Administration and GSA are doing to keep those 3 principles at the center of all our work.
First, improving customer experience is really the north star of all we do. President Biden signed an Executive Order during his first year in office directing all federal agencies to center their work on customers and effective, equitable delivery is a key pillar in the President’s Management Agenda.
Beyond saying the right things in EOs and management agendas, I’ve been more impressed with the real world results. A great example of that happened with the US Postal Service’s Covidtest.gov website. Remember that? It was just a year ago January.
How many of y’all ordered Covid tests from there?
A lot of work went into making that website fast, simple, secure, easy to use and able to withstand very high spikes in demand from 10s of millions of users. I remember the day the site launched, I gave my 88 year old mother the link and encouraged her to sign up. Not surprisingly she wanted me to do it for her, but I urged her to give it a try first. And I kid you not, within 90 seconds I heard back from her saying “Wow! That was easy! What a well designed website. Are you going to make all the government websites work this well?”
That relentless focus on customers and building tools to meet their needs is the work GSA is supporting across government. We’re especially focused on “high impact service providers,” those agencies that support the most critical interactions people have with the government, as well as people going through a life experience that might require them to interact more with the government such as having a child; transitioning from military to civilian life, recovering from a disaster; experiencing financial shock or preparing for retirement.
So if any of your companies are supporting this work, thank you and we’re eager to be your partners.
The second principle we’re focused on is developing shared services and reusable tools so that every agency isn’t forced to spend time and money reinventing the wheel on the same things. That’s why our GSA team has created easy to use, sharable tools and platforms like the US Web Design System and Login.gov.
By all accounts, the US Web Design System has been an outrageous success. It’s a FREE, open-source platform that helps developers design government websites that are accessible, mobile-friendly, and easy to use. Today this design system is used by 91 agencies covering nearly half of federal government website domains and accounts for over a billion page views a month.
Another important shared service is designed to allow people to create a secure, single sign-on and identity verification to access government services. Login.gov has been around for a few years and today it serves 60 million people from veterans accessing health benefits, to small businesses seeking disaster assistance, to farmers, travelers, and students.
Not only does GSA develop shared services, we also play an important role in helping government buy and use the best services from industry. FedRAMP – or the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program – promotes the adoption of secure cloud services across the federal government by providing a
standardized approach to security and risk assessment. FedRAMP…reduces duplication and decreases costs…fosters strong public-private partnerships by helping industry access government users…and it accelerates government-wide adoption of secure cloud services.
This is another way that GSA helps the federal government modernize and adopt leading-edge technologies – in this case, by using a cost-effective, risk-based approach to empower the use of modern cloud technologies while emphasizing the security and protection of federal information.
I’m convinced that one of the smartest investments the government can make is in expanding these types of shared services that can be integrated into existing systems in ways that deliver the results and improve people’s lives without the hassle and cost of having to reinvent the wheel hundreds of times at every government agency.
Our third focus is on being smarter about funding and procuring technology tools and services.
The speed of change when it comes to anything related to technology makes budgeting and procurement a real challenge. Because it’s no secret that those 2 things take a long time in the government.
In fact, these days I know it's not unusual for a tech solution to be already out of date before it’s even deployed because it takes so long for agencies to make a budget request, get it passed by Congress, scope the procurement, and get your vendor team onboarded to start the work.
One of the ways we’re addressing that challenge is with the Technology Modernization Fund. Let me just say, I’m a big fan of the TMF and the smart approach it has toward modernizing government technology systems and I really appreciate the Chambers long standing support for that program. To me, the TMF is one of the smartest plays I’ve seen when it comes to speeding up the adoption of modern digital tools across government and saving taxpayer money.
For folks who may not be familiar with it, the TMF is a $1.2 billion dollar fund designed to move at the speed of need when it comes to funding tech projects.
It’s unique in a couple of ways:
- it operates outside the normal Congressional budget cycle,
- technology leaders and subject matter experts across the government are the ones making the investment decisions, and
- cybersecurity, customer experience, and shared services are top investment priorities.
Demand for TMF money is high. The team has reviewed more than 220 proposals for requests of $3.5 billion. And have made 35 investments of over $650 million dollars across 19 government agencies.
But even better, TMF investments are already showing great results in everything from visa certifications (more than doubling the processing capacity of H2-A visas while saving $2 million in administrative expenses at DOL)… to streamlining USDA systems so they can inspect 64 billion pounds of produce a year.
Another example is a TMF investment with the National Archives and Records Administration to help digitize records for veterans, their families, and hundreds of agencies that provide citizen services. This investment will simplify and speed up records requests in a way that cuts time and red tape for millions of people.
Another smart $15m TMF investment has helped the U.S. Customs and Border Protection move off their 30+ year old system to the cloud and modernize their payment processing system.
Listen to these results…since its launch in 2021, this new system has already saved $30 million a year in operations and maintenance costs while supporting over 52 million transactions – resulting in over $90 billion in annual duties, taxes, and fees collected annually.
These are just a few TMF success stories…and I know you’ll be hearing more later today from Raylene Yung, the Executive Director of the TMF and Clare Martorana, our Federal CIO. It’s an exciting program and I’d encourage you to learn more about it at TMF-dot-CIO-dot-GOV. And thanks again for your support advocating for this smart and cost effective program.
Besides the TMF, GSA’s Technology Transformation Service continues to help agencies learn how to use more modern practices when it comes to building and buying technology tools and services.
For example, we all know that better design and using plain, easy to understand language on websites and forms goes a long way toward improving the experience of customers and also can save millions of dollars. But it’s not always easy to find the right industry partners to deliver those results. That’s why we’re exploring ways to make it easier for agencies to find vendors who have expertise in customer experience and human-centered design, especially with underserved and limited English communities. Stay tuned, because there’s more to come on this.
Let me wrap up by saying that at a time in Washington when there’s plenty of things folks disagree about, Transforming Government to Better Serve Americans is one of those things that enjoys wide support… because it just makes sense. Making government work better for the people we serve and saving money while we do it is why my fellow Missourian Harry Truman started GSA in the first place. That’s still our mission today and I look forward to a close partnership with all of you as we continue this important work in the years ahead.