Innovative Upgrades for California Government

April 26, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new age of digital connectivity. Millions of Americans now work remotely, attend school online, and shop for every need from the comfort of their homes. Yet a new report from the National Urban League finds that low income communities and communities of color are too often unable to enjoy this same level of convenience. Just 54 percent of households with incomes of $50,000 or less have broadband access at home, compared to 84 percent of households with incomes over $75,000. And while over 80 percent of Asian Americans and 72 percent of whites enjoy broadband access, only 66 percent of Latinx Americans, 62 percent of Black Americans, and 60 percent of Native Americans do.

Such disparities in broadband access make it difficult for these communities – who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – to access the government services they desperately need. And government’s inefficient and outdated approach to providing services only makes matters worse. Federal agencies are plagued by decades-old technology, constrained budgets, and a lack of competition that inspires private sector companies “to stay on the cutting edge of digital services and to prioritize citizen-centric experiences,” the National Urban League finds. To remedy this, the report issued a series of recommendations focused on embedding innovation in government, improving government service delivery, and investing in more modern technological systems, including:

  • Establish a Chief Innovation Officer at the White House to own the challenge of transforming the federal government into an innovation-based enterprise.

  • Increase the size of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program to encourage more product designers, engineers, and executives with industry expertise to pursue digital innovation in the federal government.

  • Enable federal employees to easily propose new ideas, especially those that would help government provide better digital delivery of services. 

  • Redesign federal websites and apps and expand the use of mobile payments and digital forms to make it easier for Americans to find and obtain government services – whether at home or on the go.

These recommendations parallel ones made by the Little Hoover Commission in its 2015 report A Customer-Centric Upgrade for California Government. In that report, the Commission found that California struggles to provide its residents excellent experiences in their interactions with state government. Californians trying to access government services are too often met with long wait times, outdated technology, and nightmarish bureaucracy, causing their trust in state government to plummet. Surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California over the years show that Californians have little to no trust in either their state or federal government. Imagine how different attitudes toward government might be, the Commission wrote, if California made it a priority – the number one priority – to improve its services to the public, especially for those most vulnerable Californians with the least amount of free time to spare navigating the bureaucracy.

Integrating innovation into government operations is crucial to making this a reality. In its report, the Commission urged California to reevaluate the way in which it provides services to constituents and recommended taking bold action to fundamentally change how Californians interact with their government:

  • Designate a California Chief Customer Officer to be responsible for overseeing implementation of a new customer-centric statewide strategy. Additionally, each agency should empower its top leaders to serve as customer champions.

  • Recruit top innovators – technologists, engineers, and designers – into state service to help customer champions identify projects that will improve efficiency of state programs and customers’ experiences with them.  

  • Enable public servants to share their ideas for improving processes and providing better customer service, and let employees know how their suggestions were used to bring about change.

  • Design new websites, service portals, and mobile apps with users’ needs in mind, offering maximum options for Californians to conveniently access information – whatever the platform they choose to use.   

Easily accessible, efficient government services are required now more than ever as communities bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic seek crucial assistance from state programs. The Commission encourages state leaders to consider these innovative upgrades that will transform Californians’ experiences with their government.

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