Newsom and Office of Digital Innovation

Alla Seiffert
Director of Cloud Policy & Counsel of Internet Association, a Washington D.C.-based trade association representing global Internet companies.

California is the innovation capital of the world, but its government services lag decades behind in using modern technology to deliver citizen services. Governor Newsom’s budget proposal to include a request for the creation of a digital service is a welcome first step to address the state’s antiquated IT infrastructure.  

Californians expect a seamless experience from the government – whether they’re looking up wait times at the DMV or reporting non-emergency issues like fallen trees – that mirrors the ease and convenience of the resources and tools they use in their everyday life. Residents of the Golden State can listen to music, order products, and connect with friends with just a few taps of the thumb, but too often government websites and technology are painfully outdated. Some public sites turn off at night or can only be accessed using browsers created nearly a decade ago – before many of today’s successful internet companies even existed.

Governor Newsom’s proposal to create a new Office of Digital Innovation will help streamline the state’s delivery of digital services. In his budget proposal this past January, Newsom asked for fifty new positions and a startup budget of $36 million to stand up a team of technologists to tackle these problems. This new office would reside under the Government Operations Agency and would have an ongoing annual budget of $14.6 million to aid government departments in enhancing their end-user digital experiences. This is a small increase to California’s existing IT budget (less than 1 percent of the amount the state currently spends on tech), but one that can yield great results.

The federal government has invested in the digital service model with great results; both the White House-based United States Digital Service (USDS) and the General Services Administration’s 18F have made meaningful progress in modernizing outdated business processes and creating better online user experiences for everyone from green card holders to visitors at National Forests. The lessons learned from these two teams – that human-centered design and agile development can meaningfully transform government processes – will allow the Office of Digital Innovation to spin up quicker and get faster results.

As the former director of 18F’s acquisition team, I’m particularly excited about the work California’s digital services team can do to streamline government services, find funding flexibilities within current authorities, and deliver more effective outcomes for all stakeholders. Finding these types of small “hacks” within current rules allowed the CA Health and Human Services to bring an innovative and modular approach to buying and building its child welfare system.  

There’s no reason why every government service, from the state’s DMV to Child Welfare systems, can’t run better by using cutting-edge solutions that are already proven successful in the private sector. This budget request is a strong signal from Governor Newsom that it’s time to modernize California’s government, and his proposal to create the Office of Digital Innovation can have a particularly big impact on the state. The internet industry supports his efforts and looks forward to this proposal becoming law.

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