the healthcare.gov issue we’ve seen in america is just one item in a long line of failed software projects, especially in the public sector. to hear clay johnson of the new york times tell it, the problem is that the government doesn’t have a central ‘technical brain’. perhaps there is some truth to that, but there are a few key roadblocks to achieving such a goal.
how do you recruit the best brains in industry and young adults in university to trade the perks of life with a tech company in silicon valley for the life of a federal employee on the beltway where politicians shut down the government recreationally? work at google and get free massages, or work for a federal agency and get furloughed; which would you choose?
the government doesn’t currently have the proper operating model to recruit and retain the best and brightest. with government jobs, time in position means more than merit. ideas are pushed down through the hierarchy rather than growing from the bottom-up organically. software designers and developers get two to three times less pay (or even less than that) for the same set of skills and level of experience that they could get working in the private sector. not many technical workers will accept those terms of employment.
if the government—or any organization—wants to get the best outputs it needs the best inputs. in the industrial age, that meant having the best raw materials and the most efficient processes. however, in a post-industrial economy, that means having the best ideas and the most creativity in problem solving. in a post-industrial economy, that means getting the best talent.