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Eggers: Technology has potential to transform state governments, help the people they serve and employ

by Tim Anderson ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The disastrous launch four years ago of Healthcare.gov will never be thought of as a shining example of how governments can “deliver on digital,” but it will be remembered as a turning point, Bill Eggers said in July during a plenary session at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting.
“It ended up being the best thing that ever happened to digital government in America,” Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights, told lawmakers. “What we saw were more changes in the two years after than we had seen probably in the previous decade and a half.”
Errors, outages and technical problems plagued the rollout of that website — the digital tool for Americans to get health insurance via the Affordable Care Act. Though the nation’s political leaders may not be technology experts, Eggers said, they knew one thing: They didn’t want another Healthcare.gov to happen under their watch. And the federal government’s response to the crisis provides lessons for states on how to improve their own delivery of services, he added.
Agencies put a greater emphasis on hiring technology specialists, did a better job of overseeing IT procurement, and created new partnerships with the private sector (for example, engineers at companies such as Facebook and Google were brought in to fix and improve Healthcare.gov). Most important of all, Eggers said, there became almost “a religious focus on the end user.” In the case of state government, that end user is any citizen or business of the state.
“Don’t make them adapt to you; you adapt to them,” he said in urging state leaders to employ technologies that help simplify the process for complying with government regulations or applying for government programs such as food stamps or Medicaid.
In addition, the use of data and digital designs can help “nudge” end users to make decisions that a government wants. Eggers gave the example of New Mexico and its recent success in limiting improper payments of unemployment benefits (nationwide, he said, $1 of every $8 goes to someone ineligible for them).
First, the state analyzed data to identify the causes of the improper payments — in the case of unemployment benefits, an applicant’s self-reporting of the reason for losing a job, the amount of his or her earnings, and his or her efforts to find a new job. New Mexico then changed the behavior of end users (those making jobless claims) by altering the online application for unemployment benefits.
For example, a pop-up screen appears showing a copy of the letter that will be sent to the individual’s former employer — an incentive for the applicant to be truthful (only people who lose a job through no fault of their own are eligible for benefits). In another part of the online application, users are told that most people are truthful about their earnings. They must then sign their initials verifying the accuracy of their reported earnings.
Lastly, to ensure that individuals are fulfilling their obligation to find work while receiving unemployment benefits, New Mexico began requiring detailed job-search plans while also providing more online employment resources.
“There was a 50 percent reduction in fraud,” Eggers said. “That’s pretty amazing, and it was done without having to send out inspectors or doing anything like that.”
It just took a nudge.
More noticeable changes may lie ahead for state governments and their workers. According to Eggers, within the next decade, “25 percent of all activities done by people in government are going to be automated” thanks to the rise in artificial intelligence.
“You create a bot to do a lot of things that are manual and don’t have a lot of value — for instance, copying and pasting, opening emails and attachments, filling in forms,” he said.
That does not necessarily mean workers will lose their jobs, but it does mean much less paperwork and a change in the nature of their jobs.
“You’re freeing up 25 percent of everyone’s time, and then what you do is use [technology] to get those workers a lot more data and information to make better decisions,” he said. “That is a super-empowered worker.”