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Amid the polarized political environment, President Donald Trump's administration wants one thing most voters can agree on: a user-friendly government. It also wants more software bots to take over human work.
Trump's proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, released Monday, criticizes agency efforts on customer satisfaction. The government "lags by as much as nine points behind the private sector," it said. The administration wants to see improvement.
Its consumer experience or CX-type approach to fixing the problem includes more survey-based feedback from users. It wants data-gathering approaches that are "aligned with private-sector best practices." The administration also promised to make agency performance data public.
But the Trump administration's CX criticism was not across the board. It cited Login.gov, launched in 2017 by the General Services Administration (GSA), as an example of something it would like to see more of. The site enables citizens to access some government services with a single sign-on.
Trump 2020 budget proposes more RPA
The IT-specific details of some of the implementations will follow March 18. At that time, the Trump administration will make public its supplemental budget reports. But the administration's initial plan calls for expansion of robotic process automation (RPA).
The government is still in the early-adopter phase of RPA, but the Trump 2020 budget makes it a priority. It points to early RPA deployment successes at the GSA and NASA.
In the case of the GSA, the finance department saved approximately 12,000 labor hours in one year because of RPA. It "shifted staff to higher-value work" after automating tasks, the report stated. NASA has four bots, including an HR bot to automate the creation of new personnel, an IT bot to process purchase requisitions, and an accounting bot, according to the space agency.
With RPA and AI, the administration is still at the stage "where they are establishing frameworks" for adoption, according to Deniece Peterson, director of federal market analysis at Deltek. The company, based in Herndon, Va., provides contracting intelligence, among other services.
What hurts government IT is the amount of budget it has to allocate to maintain its legacy systems, which makes up about 80% of federal IT spending. Because of this, there isn't a "huge dollar amount" being invested yet in RPA or AI in IT, Peterson said.
With RPA and a more seamless consumer experience, the administration is trying to shift IT workers from routine tasks to higher-level projects, according to Peterson.
More online self-service
The goal is to make government systems "more self-service," Peterson said. That means the government won't need "so many bodies trying to usher people through processes," she said.
An administration goal in the Trump 2020 budget is to have something akin to "one dashboard for each citizen," Peterson said. For example, if a veteran is looking for information, this system may tie information from Veterans Affairs, the Defense Dept. and other agencies the veteran may need information from, she said.
Ray Bjorklundpresident, BirchGrove
Some of these initiatives continue the efforts of previous administrations, Peterson said. This includes modernizing systems, as well as improving data sharing.
For now, it's an agency-by-agency effort. In its call-out of successful projects in the Trump 2020 budget, the administration cited the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture as an agency that's improving customer service and "working toward greater online service delivery and fewer in-person and paper-based transactions."
Improvements in contracting
Another major effort by the Trump administration is to improve federal contracting and to help agencies use their buying capabilities, Peterson said. Agencies are now trying to buy through existing contracts used by different agencies, a "best in class contracts" concept that doesn't require an agency to only buy through its own contracting process.
The Trump administration said the best in class approach has avoided $17 billion in costs, with IT spending a large part of the savings.
Other administrations have attempted to reduce contract duplication, said Ray Bjorklund, president of government IT market research firm BirchGrove. Former President Barack Obama's administration "created the Acquisition Gateway to show buyers that there are good solutions already out there," he said. Former President George W. Bush's administration had a similar idea.
"The problem is fixable, through strong leadership," Bjorklund said. "But it is not easy to integrate the interests of all the stakeholders, consistent with statutes that prescribe a level playing ground and special advantages to socioeconomically challenged companies."