How the government will operate in 2030

How the government will operate in 2030

Imagine it is 2030 and you are a U.S. government employee working from home. With the assistance of the latest technology, you participate in video calls with clients and colleagues, augment your job activities through artificial intelligence and a personal digital assistant, work through collaboration software, and regularly get rated on a one-to-five scale by clients regarding your helpfulness, follow-through, and task completion.

How did you — and the government — get here? The sharing economy that unfolded in 2018 has revolutionized the public-sector workforce. The days when federal employees were subject to a centrally directed Office of Personnel and Management that oversaw permanent, full-time workers sitting in downtown office buildings are long gone. In their place is a remote workforce staffed by a mix of short- and long-term employees. This has dramatically improved worker productivity and satisfaction.

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In the new digital world that has emerged, the goal is to use technology to make employees accountable. Gone are 20- or 30-year careers in the federal bureaucracy. Political leaders have always preached the virtue of running government like a business, and the success of Uber, Airbnb, and WeWork has persuaded them to focus on accountability and performance.

 

Companies such as Facebook demonstrated they could run large and complex organizations with less than 20,000 employees, and the federal government followed suit in the late 2020s. Now, workers deploy the latest tools of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, data analytics, robots, driverless cars, and digital assistants to improve the government. Unlike the widespread mistrust and cynicism that had poisoned attitudes in the decades before, the general public now sees government as a force for achieving positive results.

Many parts of the federal government are decentralized and mid-level employees are given greater authority to make decisions — but are subject to digital ratings that keep them accountable for their performance. The U.S. government borrowed this technique from China, where airport authorities in 2018 installed digital devices that allowed visitors to rate the performance of individual passport officers after every encounter. The reams of data have enabled Chinese authorities to fire poor performers and make sure foreign visitors see a friendly and competent face at the Beijing International Airport.

Alexa-like devices are given to all federal employees. The devices are used to keep track of leave time, file reimbursement requests, request time off, and complete a range of routine tasks that used to take employees hours. Through voice-activated commands, they navigate these mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. No one can believe the mountains of paperwork required just a decade ago.

Security is handled through biometrics and facial recognition software. Employees no longer need alphanumeric passwords that have to be changed every few months. Their mobile devices scan their irises and faces, providing safe access to digital files and collaboration tools. Security has improved dramatically and foreign adversaries have a much tougher time stealing personnel records, financial data, or email correspondence. Young employees cannot imagine the old days when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonColorado governor teases possible presidential run Mueller asks judge for September sentencing for Papadopoulos House Judiciary Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts MORE lost a presidential campaign over hacked emails.

New ideas are crowd-sourced. Employees can test their suggestions on a nationwide platform and have them evaluated by tens of thousands of people from across the country. A surprising number of effective ideas have come through that means, and people have been startled to realize that crowd-sourcing helps reduce the polarization and hyper-partisanship of American politics.

Of course, the transition to this new reality was not always smooth. Worker training represented a particular challenge. All the new technologies required a workforce with some knowledge of data analytics. Those tools were ubiquitous, but it was not always easy to find qualified job candidates, since so many Americans shied away from science and technology training.

Today in 2018, there is potential for this future where systems function remarkably well. Worries that an agile workforce would not deliver needed services have not been borne out. Instead, new technologies can improve performance and employee satisfaction. People can accomplish good things in the public sector without spending all their time fighting the bureaucracy.

Darrell M. West is vice president of governance studies and director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation.”