After Obamacare Fiasco, Call Goes Out to Get Government Up to Digital Speed

Authors wade into debate over problems with Obamacare signup.

For many people, one man behind the scenes lay at the heart of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election victory: Reed Harper, chief technology officer for Obama’s presidential campaign.

That’s because Harper was responsible in large part for the campaign’s digital strategy, credited with effectively identifying and mobilizing voters through a combination of information-sharing, database-building and social media. Those efforts made Harper a bit of a star among many younger and more tech-savvy folks.

Today, Harper waded into the debate over high-profile problems and frustration with signing people up for Obamacare by calling for a more comprehensive digital strategy in the highest reaches of the federal government. Writing in the New York Times, Reed and another political programmer, Clay Johnson, said:

This latest failure is frustrating for us to watch. Our careers have largely been about developing technology that allows more people to participate in the way we finance, support and elect candidates for public office. Together, we’ve done things that transformed elections, but we now need that work to carry into transforming government.

They also laid the problems in getting the Affordable Care Act’s main web site,, to work properly at the feet of a broken procurement system that weeds out innovation and rewards success at navigating government contracts.

The president should use the power of the White House to end all large information technology purchases, and instead give his administration’s accomplished technologists the ability to work with agencies to make the right decisions, increase adoption of modern, incremental software development practices …

Large federal information technology purchases have to end. Any methodology with a 94 percent chance of failure or delay, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars, doesn’t belong in a 21st-century government.

While they’re correct, I’m not sure the duo goes far enough. Why not something like a Cabinet-level office of Digital Initiatives and Implementation? Not to forward a particular political strategy, but to focus government efforts on helping the country move into the digital future.

From privacy cases to government surveillance to ways government services are being increasing delivered electronically at the state, federal and local levels, isn't it time we accept that governments across the land, and in particular the feds, remain hide-bound in dealing with the ever changing digital landscape?

By putting it into the level of a Cabinet office, the President can show real commitment to ensuring America remains at the forefront of effective government and digital innovation.

And for those who suggest another federal agency or Cabinet office would result in simply more regulation of an industry that can ill-afford, I ask a simple question:

When’s the last time you heard that the U.S. Department of Commerce seriously held back an American company from going about their business?

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