Having only lived in Maryland for less than a year, I’ve been around all different kinds of people. Experiences may vary, but overall, I’ve been pleased with the multitude of people I’ve met across different education levels, socioeconomic statuses, ethnic backgrounds, and professional accomplishments. Everyone brings something different to the table, and being either in or near DC has opened up my eyes to many things. What has been lingering over all my discussions with professionals about changing troubled digital infrastructure or helping improve the situations for minority groups like veterans is the looming shadow of the status quo. Ultimately, how do you change a deeply entrenched and corrupt system?
Guerrilla tactics through entrepreneurship.
At the creation of the United States Digital Service, a program set forth by the Obama Administration, the intent was to improve the user experience and functionality across the digital infrastructure of various government agencies and websites. Power players in the form of former Facebook and Google employees, Ivy League graduates, various White House fellows, and others have been tasked with making this large change. Will these changes be completed by the time President Obama leaves office?
This undertaking is so epic the time frame may very well keep sliding to the right. A noble idea in practice, and it lures those dedicated to service in order to accomplish the myriad goals set forth of making government in its digital form a more efficient machine. A machine nonetheless run by the same people who needed to fix the bottlenecks in the first place.
Enter the entrepreneur.
The status quo is public enemy number one. Step one, though, is to find the right team with not only the technical skills required, but who has direct experience in dealing with the issues. Those who’ve served, whether in law enforcement, government, or in the military all usually work for something larger than themselves. Make do with less even though more is required. For some people, money speaks louder than principle. For others, working for a cause means more. The entrepreneur wants to solve a problem and is willing to sacrifice significantly in order to achieve that goal. The status quo must be changed.
When navigating the status quo, especially in government, contracts are awarded, and even in some instances that game is rigged or preferential treatment is given to the larger defense contractors and companies. How do you work around government contracts when billions of dollars have been wasted, programs have been scrapped by two service secretaries, and the current batch of top-tier leadership is standing idly by? The simple answer is pretty black and white, but whether or not its practical remains to be seen. Simply this:
Create a significant service/product for the existing mass of individuals those same government or professional services are designed to reach, but do it different, and do it better. Successful adoption by the masses speaks for itself, and with most things done in the tech world in the civilian sector, it’s easy to pivot with feedback from your user groups and refine and improve your product. Government websites and digital services are often not user friendly, cumbersome, poorly designed, and slow, to name a few.
Attack from the outside and work your way in. Much like Admiral Mullen reached out to the private sector in order to streamline and improve the military and national security in 2010, government will need to do the same thing in order to restore trust, faith, and functionality into the departments and organizations created to support the very people that must rely on for maintaining their well-being.
The attack came in the form of an administration who placed a man with military experience (a plus) and private sector business background but failed to utilize the right combination. Instead, while having a former CEO who is a veteran is great, someone with knowledge of software and digital services and maybe healthcare administration would have proven better than coming from a company that is merely products-based. Veterans and the served populations, myself included, are happy a veteran is leading one of the largest government bureaucracies, but as time has shown, leadership has been lacking in ridding the Department of Veterans Affairs of the cronyism, gross mismanagement of personnel and resources, and pure lack of regard for the lives of those it was designed to serve. The attack was not only orchestrated by the wrong person, but the execution was horribly wrong. Peoples’ lives have depended on an otherwise apathetic administration.
Americans are tired of waiting.
While the sins of so many are focused mainly as being committed against service members, government employees and organizations, along with public safety officials and the like, are rife with their own issues. Contracts are an issue here as well, but on a much smaller scale. The attacks must be led by someone with the requisite experience and knowledge of the sphere, but is removed far enough as not to be blinded by the status quo’s institutionalized chokehold it may have on innovation efforts by a concerned entrepreneur.
The following already exists for change. The attack from the outside will come, and those services will be disrupted, as the saying goes. Government services of all spectrums in the digital age are in need of tremendous change. Help must come from the outside but in a better and freely orchestrated form rather than it being limited to academic, political, and technology elites. Go for the underdogs. Let those who have fought for change lead the attack and make it happen. The worst that can happen is the forces that be say “no” and we move on.
Entrepreneurs persevere and make the change, waiting for no one.
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