Monday, June 26, 2023
The IBM Center for The Business of Government is pleased to announce the winners of our 25th anniversary challenge grant award competition.

Earlier this year, our Center welcomed proposals that described the future of government management and operations and how innovations could drive agency missions forward.  We received dozens of impactful essays and are grateful to all of the applicants who brought ideas forward. The finalists will write as individual subject matter experts, and will prepare an essay expanding their vision for a compendium later this year. Summaries of each essay follow.

In addition to the list below, we are grateful to have received many additional interesting ideas about the future of government.  Some of those ideas will be featured in guest blog posts over the next several months.

AI Literacy: A Prerequisite for the Future of AI and Automation in Government by Ignacio Cruz, Northwestern University

The future of government management and operations will be defined by AI and automation, with a critical emphasis on AI literacy. As AI becomes integral to public service delivery, it's essential that government employees and the public understand AI's capabilities and limitations.

AI literacy will be key to navigating the challenges posed by AI and automation. This includes understanding how AI systems make decisions, how data biases can affect outcomes, and how to use AI responsibly. It will enable government employees to effectively incorporate AI in their roles while empowering citizens and relevant stakeholders to engage with AI-enhanced services.

This essay proposes strategies for promoting AI literacy, including educational programs, inter-organizational awareness campaigns, and workforce training. It explores how these initiatives can demystify AI, foster responsible use, and mitigate job displacement due to automation. AI literacy, encapsulating comprehension of AI technologies, ethical implications, practical interaction skills, data literacy, and commitment to ongoing learning, is vital. By investing in regular AI training, promoting ethical AI use, ensuring AI decision-making transparency, and aligning AI with business objectives, managers can integrate these elements into their strategies while maintaining adaptability to AI's rapid advancements.

In conclusion, this essay will serve as a blueprint for a future where AI and automation do not just enhance government operations but also resonate with an AI-literate workforce. It will make a compelling case for why AI literacy should be at the forefront of organizational strategy and how it can shape a government that is more efficient, responsive, and in tune with its citizens.

Paying the right person, in the right amount at the right time by Renata Miskell, U.S. Department of the Treasury

Paying the right person, in the right amount, for the right reason, at the right time is crucial to the Federal government's ability to build public trust. From Social Security benefits to tax returns, payment integrity is essential. However, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in federal and state agency payment systems, leading to increased fraud and precipitating a payment integrity crisis.  In Fiscal Year 2022, 83% ($205 billion) of improper payments stemmed from data unavailability or inaccessibility. Furthermore, approximately 92% of overpayments were beyond the control of a single agency. Eligibility criteria such as death and income are recurring payment integrity challenges, and insufficient data analytics exacerbate the problem. Moreover, misaligned incentives and complex systems limit accountability.

As the primary disbursing agency responsible for over 90% of federal payments, the U.S. Treasury Department has developed a bold vison to empower agencies to use data proactively to promote payment integrity. Our vision is to collaborate with federal and state agencies to provide actionable business solutions to transform the identification, prevention, and recovery of improper payments; and to mitigate the effects of fraud.

This vision emphasizes a pivot from compliance to prevention-focused strategies, promoting the use of data and analytics and collaboration across government and commercial sectors. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are crucial catalysts for this transformation, enhancing data analysis, streamlining processes, facilitating the reuse of data, and improving fraud detection and prevention; all while prioritizing data privacy and security. Advanced analytics will enable continuous monitoring, ensuring swift and adaptive responses to emerging fraud threats.

By embracing this vision and leveraging technological advancements, the federal government can make significant strides in payment integrity, reducing fraud, and safeguarding taxpayer resources. Collaboration, proactive measures, and data-driven solutions will provide for a more secure and trusted payment ecosystem.

Design principles for responsible use of AI in public procurement by Ana-Maria Dimand, Boise State University and co-authors Andrea Patrucco, Ilia Murtazashvili, and Kayla Schwoerer

Governments at all levels are focusing more on customer experience (CX), and agencies are increasingly leveraging emerging AI tools, such as machine learning and chatbots, to improve service and build public trust. These tools present enormous opportunities to improve public services and customer interactions; however, they also present significant challenges.  This essay explains why deploying AI in a manner that successfully improves CX, advances agency missions, and builds trust necessitates strategies that go beyond conventional management practices. The focus is on the use of AI in public procurement. The reason to focus on public procurement is because of its pivotal role in the successful deployment of novel technologies, such as generative AI, and highlight the role of public procurement agencies and officials as “gatekeepers”" of the procurement, implementation, and management of ethical and trustworthy AI. For example, agencies can promote market innovation with their purchasing power. Performance metrics related to user experience and customer satisfaction in procurement contracts encourage suppliers to develop novel solutions that meet agency specifications, improving service delivery and CX. There are numerous examples of AI's success in public organizations, but there have also been numerous failed attempts to integrate AI in ways that would otherwise enhance the customer experience. These efforts provide fertile ground for the development of case studies to better comprehend why the implementation of new technology policy tools is sometimes unsuccessful. Policy blunders related to public procurement are especially instructive for comprehending the repercussions of ineffective and flawed AI deployments in the public sector. These cases can be used to generate a set of design principles for effective AI deployments in the public sector that improve CX. These principles will be useful for government agencies seeking to integrate AI in their operations while maintaining ethical and trustworthy practices.

A 25-Year Vision of Engaging Integrated Public-Private Services by Michael Windle and Heath Mitchell, Department of Homeland Security – Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To get 25 years into the future, we are confident – perhaps too optimistically – that current government CX efforts will succeed.  The federal emphasis on High Impact Service Providers (established in 2016 under the title of Core Federal Services) will drive an ever-improving set of minimum CX standards for all agencies.  Congress will have required objective service standards published in a FITARA-like score card to further propel implementation of the 21st Century IDEA Act.  Civic tech, led by groups like Code for America and its Safety Net Innovation Lab, will bring states forward in their administration and delivery of government services.  Major urban areas will continue to be our best laboratories for democracy by becoming digital first in areas like election administration and school enrollment.

Twenty-five years from now, the remaining challenges will be where public goods and services intersect with private goods and services.  For instance, when private companies execute public goods, or customer journeys that require both government and private sector transactions.  Examples include:-- Loans and Insurance – where Dept of Ed FSA loans, SBA PPP loans, or FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program are serviced and executed by private companies.-- Vehicle or Home purchases – where registration, zoning, and permitting are government pre-requisites to private transactions.

We would like to spend our long-form essay on these challenges and opportunities:-- The threat of regulatory capture (e.g. TurboTax and H&R Block) for inherently government transactions,-- Privacy challenges and tradeoffs inherent to the optimization of customer experience across public and private sector service providers,-- Additional methods to incentivize cyber security improvements as a requirement to do business with government.

Towards More Useful Federal Oversight by Shelley Metzenbaum, The BETTER Project

In the future, federal oversight will be modernized. Oversight data, data systems, and changes to oversight approaches will deliver more insights to federal programs and their delivery partners to help them prevent problems more successfully and address problems that do arise more strategically. Today’s federal oversight system includes IGs, GAO, program and regional offices, and the private sector auditors every grant recipient receiving more than $750,000 a year must hire. These oversight entities collect significant amounts of information.

Unfortunately, much of this oversight information has historically been collected and shared with government and the public in PDF form. This makes it hard to analyze across cases (not just case-by-case) to look for the patterns, pattern variations, and relationships that trigger the kinds of questions that lead to discovery of more effective, cost-effective ways to reduce operational problems and improve outcomes.

How can we tap evolving technologies to modernize the way oversight information is collected, analyzed, shared, and used to strengthen prevention and corrective action, to address caseload and cross-agency issues, and to align risk management and mission-advancing efforts? Technology advances make it easier and more affordable to collect and capture key characteristics of data. They make it easier to do analyses and to visualize and communicate oversight findings to help delivery partners (e.g., state, local, tribal, non-profit partners) prevent and correct problems. Technology advances also make it far easier and more affordable to facilitate discussions with and among delivery partners to help them learn from and collaborate with others dealing with similar issues to tackle those issues in more effective, cost-effective, and equitable ways.

FEMA, PRAC, and the RAT Board each made noteworthy progress modernizing data handling in some areas. How can we make data-informed approaches to oversight more the norm than the exception in the future? 

Leveraging Inspectors General to Make Evidenced Based Decisions by Ken Lish, National Science Foundation

Although Artificial Intelligence and data analytics receive much fanfare as emerging tools to facilitate effective and evidenced-based decisions, an arguably more innovative and meaningful development in this area is taking place in an older and more traditional part of the federal government - the Inspector General (IG) community.

Although the role of IGs has traditionally been one of retrospective audits, evaluations, and inspections of agency programs and operations, the IG community is shifting towards a more proactive role to engage with their agencies on the design and controls of new programs prior to implementation. On December 3, 2021, the Office of Management and Budget issued Memorandum M-22-04 titled Promoting Accountability through Cooperation among Agencies and Inspectors General. The memo encourages agencies to proactively engage with their IGs in the design of new or expanded programs. This approach proved fruitful during the implementation of the American Rescue Plan where a process was developed to bring together the Administration, the agencies, their respective IGs, and other stakeholders to collectively review and assess program design, financial controls, and reporting measures prior to the release of funds from programs that were newly created, received substantial funding increases, or required significant changes to program design. IGs across government have built on this approach and have implemented “agile oversight” techniques that allow for IGs to provide applicable input to agencies during the program development process without jeopardizing their independence. By taking this proactive approach and partnering with their IGs, agency leaders incorporate data into their decision-making and program development process that is more accurate, timely, and broader. This approach leads to deeper insights, better informed decisions, and improved program delivery. IG’s, and the 14,000 professionals at their disposal, are well positioned to propel effectiveness in delivering outcomes and optimizing returns on investment.

A Better Model for Agency Mission Enablement: The Consolidated Business Services Organization by Jason Briefel, Shaw, Bransford & Roth, P.C.

The federal government has sought for decades to advance shared services policy and business practices within agencies. Yet, limited progress has been made because this policy-centric approach skips past the foundation of design and structure. I propose taking a step back to consider agency mission enablement functions more holistically and managing them through a more rational, consolidated approach.

Mission support functions, including financial management, human resources, information technology, procurement, and business support services have for too long been deemed as administrative matters and are not always positioned as mission essential functions.

The result in typical CFO Act agencies is that each bureau or agency under a Department maintains its own FM, HR, IT, and Procurement shops, in addition to functional policy-setting Departmental level offices. Employees working at those bureau-level shops do not necessarily see themselves as Departmental employees, and their career opportunities are likely attenuated based on their organization, rather than seen as part of the broader Departmental workforce.

A better model for agency mission enablement services is the Consolidated Business Services Organization (CBSO). This proposal is inspired by the NASA National Shared Services Center (NSSC), a CBSO established in 2006. Prior to the NSSC, Congress funded each of the 10 NASA space centers at differing levels, with different levels of mission support funding. This created haves and have nots between FM, HR, IT, and procurement organizations, and inconsistent results for customers and employees.

The NSSC has proven success in achieving five objectives: 1) improve operations – timeliness, accuracy, consistency of information, 2) normalize service levels agency-wide, 3) achieve service excellence, 4) achieve critical mass of “core” expertise, and 5) lower costs. Centralizing the management and administration of mission enablement services with the NSSC enabled NASA to focus more resources and attention on mission. More agencies should follow NASA’s lead.

Quantum Technology and Cybersecurity Challenges: The Role of the Government by Paula Ganga, Stanford University

The development of quantum technology has the potential to reshape the economic and social landscape across the world. Cybersecurity in particular will be one of the earliest sectors impacted. Additionally, the governments will bear the brunt of the attacks if it does not upgrade the technology as soon as possible. Understanding how to upgrade requires an understanding of the underlining technology and the advances the government would have to invest in to compete with possible nefarious actors.

Quantum computing makes use of quantum physics phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform faster computations among its many real-world possible applications. Current cryptography is based on three main types of algorithms: symmetric keys, asymmetric keys (also known as public keys), and hash functions. At this point, even today’s most advanced classical computers and cryptanalysis techniques cannot break these types of encryption without extensive time. However, a fully functioning quantum computer could break an asymmetric key in a matter of minutes. Successful attacks could compromise connections used by the financial system, including mobile banking, e-commerce, payment transactions, ATM cash withdrawals, and VPN communications, as well as popular digital assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The dangers of quantum decryption are not only coming from individuals but other governments too. As the quantum supremacy race is afoot, some governments might be friends and possible collaborators like Canada or the countries of the EU, while others such as China will not. In a National Memorandum in May 2022, the White House acknowledged that quantum computing can create important challenges in data protection: “A quantum computer of sufficient size and sophistication will be capable of breaking much of the public-key cryptography used on digital systems across the US and around the world.”

Developing these ideas could provide invaluable insight for government agencies in their cyber preparedness for the challenges of quantum computing.

Tackling Cyberattacks Against the US Water Sector by Jongeun You, Northern Michigan University

The US water sector is one of the primary targets for cyberattacks and is considered more susceptible than other critical infrastructure sectors (Booz Allen Hamilton 2019; Cisco 2020). Water and wastewater operators commonly use control system devices developed decades ago, and their operational and information technology tends to be outdated (CISA 2021). Small municipal water systems are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks because local governments are often under-resourced and may rely heavily on remote access monitoring and outside contractors (Montgomery and Logan 2021). COVID-19 has furthered the reliance on remote administration and exacerbated cybersecurity weaknesses, as represented by the Oldsmar incident in February 2021 (You 2022).

This proposed essay will include two components that describe the future of government management and operations in cybersecurity. The first component is to evaluate the Water and Wastewater Sector Action Plan. In January 2022, the federal government announced the expansion of the Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Initiative to the water sector. This component will use a policy evaluation approach to determine the effects and limitations of this plan.  The second component is to examine cybersecurity legislation at the federal level. Statutory and regulatory actions are underway to build the water sector’s capacity to address cyberattacks. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides nearly $2 billion for cybersecurity, including new CISA and EPA cybersecurity programs for the water sector. This component will focus on federal cybersecurity legislation shaping cybersecurity of the water sector and provide recommendations on the next steps for a more secure cybersecurity future.