White House meets corporate CEOs for ideas on modernizing government

Effort to overcome stagnation of technology starts today

Because too many government information technology systems are rooted in the 1960s and ’70s, the White House is convening a conference today of 50 corporate chief executives with the hope of generating fresh ideas to help modernize government and improve efficiency.

Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients, who has spent 20 years in the private sector, said that “in my seven months as CPO it has become clear to me that one of the biggest challenges we face is the technology gap that exists between the public and private sectors.”

Zients, speaking to reporters before the conference began, said that private sector has taken major leaps in technology in recent decades while the government has stagnated. “We wanted to find out how they did it.”

“We continue to concentrate in government on outdated paper-based processes,” said federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. “Today is about unearthing the best ideas in the country” on how to move forward.

Although CEOs often are not the most tech-savvy people in their organizations, Zients said that participants in today’s conference come from companies that are leaders in innovation and using technology.

“We’ve picked the right CEOs,” he said.

Participants include Steve Ballmer of Microsoft; Jeff Bewkes from Time Warner; Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo; Shantanu Narayen, Adobe Technology; Craig Newmark, Craigslist; Sal Iannuzzi, Monster.com; Bill McComb, Liz Claiborne, Inc.; Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool; Scott Davis, UPS; Andrea Jung, Avon; Debra Lee, BET Holdings, Inc.; John Riccitiello, Electronic Arts; Chris Hughes, Facebook; Jeffrey Jordan, OpenTable; Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp; Peter Darbee, PG&E Corp.; Ronald Sargent, Staples; Millard Drexler, J.Crew. They will be meeting with departmental deputy secretaries and agency CIOs.

Kundra cited improvements in the use of technology that have been made by the administration during the past year, including the Education Department, which has partnered with the IRS to simplify the student aid application process, and the Customs and Immigration Service, which has developed and online dashboard to let visa applicants track the process of their applications.

“But these are isolated successes,” he said. They are offset by antiquated systems such as the Veterans Administration’s claims processing, which involves moving stacks of manila folders from one desk to another and which eats of months, and the Patent and Trademark Office, which receives 80 percent of its applications electronically, but then prints them out and scans them into a case management system.

One of the purposes of the conference is to prioritize areas with the greatest potential for generating improvement. The effort also is being tied to the budget process. Kundra said that during this year’s budget planning, agencies are being asked to identify three to eight high priority goals for improving mission performance. Many of these will be married to agency technology plans, he said.

The forum was scheduled to open with remarks from President Obama at 1:45 p.m., and then participants will break into focus groups to concentrate on three specific areas:

* Streamlining Government Operations – There will be two break-out sessions on using technology to transform outdated processes. These will be moderated by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Scott Gould.

* Transforming Customer Service – There will be two break-out sessions on using technology to meaningfully improve customer service, moderated by Deputy the Interior Secretary David Hayes and Deputy Education Secretary Anthony Miller.

* Managing Technology Return on Investment – There will be break-out session on managing the overall IT budget and portfolio moderated by Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew.

The forum will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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