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Rewiring Government

The Department of Better Technology helps governments deliver great digital services to the people who depend on them.

What Is The Future Of Open Government?

A couple weeks ago, President Obama announced a new research initiative to map the human brain – making a significant investment of $100 Million Dollars to prevent, treat and cure brain injuries.

This is a website called Sam.gov. It launched late last year, and it’s the central hub responsible for all the databases behind government contracting. The GAO estimates that this website will cost the taxpayer $181 Million dollars.

I’d like to say that this is just a one-off anomaly, but government regularly pays millions of dollars for websites.

So how did we get to the point where the cost of mapping the human brain costs less than a complicated website?

The first reason is because of something called Procurement. It’s how government, or really any large institution buys things. Right now, procurement law is regulated by the Federal Acquisition Regulation. It’s about 6,000 pages of regulation that ensure that contracts go to people who understand the law the best, not the people who can do the best job.

Related to that, is that the field of technology and the field of government don’t speak the same language. This makes it so that when you, as a small business want to, say, bid on a website, you can search bidding systems for the word “website” but you won’t get relevant results. Or if you do, it’s not obvious what to do with them.

Finally, inside of government, the tools suck. Because government can’t get affordable technology, it means that the people whose job it is to negotiate contracts and get the most value for the taxpayer are often bogged down with the worst tools, or doing menial data entry work.

All of this leads to a closed, anti-competitive marketplace that makes it hard for small businesses to compete, and hard for the taxpayer to get the best price.

So we’re creating a new social venture called the Department of Better Technology. It’s Open. For Business. See – much of the efforts around open government have been around government’s relationship with the citizen. And they’re great, and vital. But if you take a look at something like Recovery.gov – built by government to provide oversight on the Recovery funding from 2009 – open government is really hard for government to sustain. It cost the taxpayer $18 Million.

So we’re going upstream – to equip government with better technology that will drive down the cost of opening up, and spur economic development by making it easier for governments to engage with the innovative companies in their own back yards.

Our first step with that is a product called Procure.io. It’s based on technology we made for the Presidential Innovation Fellowship program. It makes it easier for people like you to find potential projects to bid on, take a look at them, monitor them for updates, ask questions about them, and bid on them.

At the same time, it provides people inside the government with the tools they need to manage these procurements well. It gives them the ability to customize project descriptions, create custom response fields for easy management later, and a simple, familiar interface.

What did we find when we did this for the Federal Government?

We found, in this pilot experiment that the system reduced cost – the bids coming through the system were much lower than bids coming in through traditional means.

But we also found we increased engagement – many of the bids that came in were from businesses that had not ordinarily contracted with the federal government before.

And finally, we increased speed – bids came in faster, meaning procurements can be done more quickly with the right tools.

The next phase of open government revolves around procurement. Anybody that’s interested in government being more transparent, more participatory, or more accountable, has to care about it. We do.

That’s why we’ve made Procure.io open source, ready for any city, state or enterprise to take and use as they see fit. And if they need some help, the Department of Better Technology is here to help support it. Just email us at hello at dobt dot co. We’re from the Department of Better Technology, and we’re here to help.

Clay is the chairman and co-founder of The Department of Better Technology.

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