Challenge Grant Competition: Re-Thinking Government Management and Operations Given the Impact of COVID-19
To provide comments on any of the below proposals, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proposal One: Improving Knowledge Delivery Through The Next Generation of Intelligent Chatbots
The "new" normal is one fraught with many risks. However, new challenges bring opportunities for innovation and creativity. Such is the case for the Federal Government in managing risk and coping with change under these pandemic conditions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) for developing user-centered Chatbots can be of great assistance in the federal government during these stressful times. Some work has already been done, including a 2019 AI-based Chatbot at GSA to provide online advice and improve customer service for users of the USA.gov website. However, many of these existing chatbots do not apply the advances in machine learning and natural language processing. Earlier this year in January, Google released Meena, a 2.6 billion parameter end-to-end trained neural conversational model and scored 79% versus humans (86%) in the sensibleness and specificity average. Gartner predicts that by 2024, the workload of managers will be reduced to 69% of current levels, due to AI advancements.
As COVID-19 has created a "more work from home" online environment, there will be a greater need for Federal Government agencies to apply AI Chatbots using the available and emerging AI/NLP technologies. This should improve user engagement and knowledge delivery to reduce the risks of not providing the right information at the right time to the right individual. Federal agencies should embrace the next generation of AI chatbots which should improve internal/employee and external/taxpayer delivery of services, both knowledge-driven and actual products. According to the March 12, 2020 Forbes article, the next generation of intelligent chatbots will transform the way services are delivered. The Federal Government should encourage the development and implementation of these intelligent chatbots in the near future.
Proposal Two: Re-thinking the Strategic National Stockpile
In order to see the full spectrum of PPE supplies available to us and discern those that are not truly available to us (e.g. ghost stock) the country needs to re-vamp its perspectives on its Strategic National Stockpile, and embrace a PPE sourcing strategy that seeks to enhance supply chain immunity over resilience.
Flexible. A key component of a future state supply chain response is the ability to withstand different requirements that need to be pulled together. This requires advanced planning, effective category intelligence, and strategic sourcing plans for every key need that might arise in an emergency.
Traceable / Transparent. Contractual requirements must be supplemented by inventory visibility systems throughout all healthcare networks. This can be best achieved through blockchain transaction channels, along with a QR or barcoding system that is attached to every item of inventory in the system.
Persistent / Responsive. A national response system must be decisive and efficient in making decisions, based on real-time data provided by the visibility system. Because events in a crisis such as COVID move rapidly, the materials system must also be able to deploy material based on actual values tracked in real-time (not in a batch or audit system).
Globally Independent. Outsourcing of manufacturing capabilities in North America has been on-going for more than 20 years. A national policy is needed that truly develops an understanding of the risks of localization vs. globalization, and the critical categories that must be co-located to promote national security.
Equitable. During a pandemic we have seen large integrated delivery systems, individual hospitals (in and outside of these systems), government delivery systems including military and VA, prisons, nursing and senior residential facilities and rural hospitals and clinics all seeking products.
Proposal Three: State Tax Administration Will Never Be the Same
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many aspects of American society. For those of us who work in the public finance field, the health crisis has irrevocably changed state tax administration. if you dealt with state revenue one year ago, you would not recognize the field today or next year. Everything from audits to appeals have gone virtual. And they will remain so for two reasons. First, state governments were surprisingly prepared to deal with remote tax administration. And that will improve. Second, taxpayers, or more importantly taxpayer accountants are and will be working from home. That home may be in a different state. The convergence of new technology and a permanent remote workforce will mean the government mechanism for collecting $1 trillion a year will change for good.
Proposal Four: COVID-19, AI, and Allocating Governance Tasks
As AI tools have increased in their capabilities, governing organizations have also increased their use of these tools. This increase in use has opened up both new opportunities and threats for government management, with consequences both for decision making processes and the organizational structures of those governing organizations. These opportunities and threats present new and complex challenges for risk management in particular.
COVID-19 has been a shock not only to our general governing system, but also to the work that is done by governing organizations. Work, and in particular much administration work has moved from face-to-face to distance digital work. This has upended flows of both information and work for completing governance tasks. While this is a systematic challenge to governance, it also presents a unique opportunity to more intelligently design and manage the risks of both these flows for the organizational decision-making process.
At the intersect of AI tools, COVID-19, and digital distance there is an opportunity to more intelligently allocate governance tasks across and throughout organizations. If this allocation is done well, governing organizations could improve along the important dimensions of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. For this to be done well, work tasks need to be allocated across three general task conditions, given the rise of AI tools: (1) Tasks to be completed by humans, (2) Tasks that are co-produced across humans and AI tools, (3) Tasks to be completed by AI tools. This task allocation needs to be made with careful consideration to the type of task, the context of the task, and the consequence of the task. Finally, some consideration is also given to how this task assignment process may influence the shape of the organization and the more general flows of information and decision making throughout the organization.
Proposal Five: Realizing AI Affordances and Futures
This paper will explore the transformative role that AI can play in reshaping the business models of public agencies. Drawing on ongoing research, the paper will outline four
futures for AI deployments in the public sector – scale (operations), conserve (resources), experiment (innovations), and transform (value proposition).
Proposal Six: Amend the Paperwork Reduction Act to exclude from its scope all voluntary federal surveys and other information collection requests.
The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), 44 U.S.C. § 3501 et seq. requires collections of information applying to ten or more people to undergo formal review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This review and approval process by a part of OMB can take as long as 6-9 months. Collections of information are broadly defined in statute and regulation as including “schedules; questionnaires; surveys; reporting or recordkeeping requirements.” In addition to OMB review, proposed questionnaires and surveys must be published in Federal Register for public comment before an agency can begin its proposed activity.
The PRA can, at worst, add significantly to agency burden in developing or revising important surveys and tools and at best serves as yet another barrier for agencies. For instance, when the FDA wanted to hold focus groups about drug products and labeling it had to publish its intentions in the Federal Register. When the Census Bureau planned its Household Pulse Survey for coronavirus, it too was subject to PRA. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to enhance its important behavioral health survey to obtain additional information about asthma, it too was subject to this process.
Though the PRA was well-intentioned, the public benefit of subjecting ongoing surveys such as CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) to these requirements remains unclear. These surveys are, after all, entirely voluntary for those contacted.
While it is one thing for such collections as IRS tax forms to be subject to review, given that completion of these forms may be legally required, subjecting voluntary information requests to the PRA adds little value to the public while obstructing agency efficiency and the collection of important information relating to public health, welfare and important governmental services.
Proposal Seven: Trust as resilience: How New Zealand cultivated public confidence and squashed Covid-19
New Zealand is an island nation of five million with high rates of international travel. When Covid-19 struck, the country quickly recorded 1500 cases. Following a public health response, community transmission of the virus was eliminated within two months. This success is best explained as an example of extremely high voluntary compliance. A “team of five million” complied with more stringent government guidelines than those of similar nations, yet required significantly less enforcement activity.
New Zealanders trusted their public officials and agencies to tell the truth. So, when they received clear information about the evidence underlying the policies of the public health response, they bought-in to the solution. Public trust has consistently been high in New Zealand, but hit record levels during the pandemic. This doesn’t happen by accident. This essay examines tangible provisions that enabled New Zealand to build trust in politically neutral public officials and explores how US and other jurisdictions might do the same.
The New Zealand system requires a responsive public service to implement government policies. However, this is balanced with responsibilities, functions and processes that protect independent information and advice – arguably the strongest such protections and obligations in the world. Public servants are appointed by a non-partisan commissioner, based on merit. They have a legal duty to be politically neutral and are expected to provide free and frank advice to elected officials. Finally, they are mandated as stewards of the public service, which means maintaining its capability to respond to emerging risks and promoting transparency and accountability. Public trust and confidence are a necessary but not sufficient component of resilience in the face of national crisis, and form part of a complex system of policies, processes, and practices. Despite constitutional and systemic differences, there are clear lessons from the New Zealand response for developing analogous practices in the US and elsewhere.
Proposal Eight: Leveraging forced telework experiences: a view from the home offices in sixty states and provinces
As late as February, the overall assessment of telework suggests high employee satisfaction, but had mixed results in terms of a large sway of effectiveness measures, and was on the way out on many private and public workplaces. A month later, it became the only way to assure service continuity for many public agencies.
Public sector unions have been active since the beginning of the economic shut-down in mid-March. Union representatives have been negotiating with employers to assure that the workers heading back to the office do so in a safe environment, as Federal Government Employees did with the U.S. Social Security Administration. They also have been keeping track of grievances about the demands made on their time. Additionally, they surveyed their members to assess how they coped with the demands of forced telework. An example is the “Consultation on public service at the time of COVID-19” that the Public Service Union of Quebec gathered about their 2,567 members about different challenges and new working conditions under extended telework. These lessons should not have to be learned independently in each state.
What we are proposing is to synthesize the reports, guidelines and consultations prepared by prominent state unions in all fifty states and in the ten Canadian provinces. This project will achieve the following: a) highlight the problems that are encountered with forced telework throughout North America, b) record the efforts which are seen as successfully alleviating teleworks’ challenges, and c) identify the obstacles that do not seem to have been solved in most jurisdictions. After leveraging the largely untapped crystalized experiences of the past few months in sixty jurisdictions, we will present the practices that we deem worthy of inspiring other state and provincial government managers on how to harness the full potential of telework.
Proposal Nine: Supplying the Pandemic: Reimagining Public Procurement
The rapid global transmission of COVID-19 has demonstrated many weaknesses in government procurement of essential supplies. States and localities are competing over limited medical resources, while the federal government has failed to alleviate burdens on the lower tiers of government. Rather than competing over personal protective equipment and other resources, governments must learn to work together to procure emergency supplies. Though joint action is necessary in normal conditions, the consequences are much more pressing during emergencies when fragmentary procurement may increase the chances of unethical purchasing, facilitate price gouging, and lead to many unnecessary death. Now is the time to rethink government procurement. We propose public organizations take two primary steps: adopt strategic sourcing and strengthen capacity. Strategic sourcing can help reduce uncertainties and increase management flexibility by fostering resilient collaboration across tiers of government, establishing relationships with essential contractors, and integrating supply chain management tactics into the procurement process. E-procurement technologies, tools of strategic sourcing, can create centralized online markets that simplify the oversight and management of supply chains, resulting in more agile and more efficient procurement. To effectively manage virtual marketplace transactions, procurement officials have to adapt existing contracting approaches. Modeling best practices as we shift to a new virtual “work day” will be crucial for successful government procurement operations. To implement strategic sourcing, governments must upgrade their procurement workforces, as many lack sufficient capacity. Particularly scarce is expertise managing e-procurement and conducting effective contract oversight, which can lead to poorly designed contracts, cumbersome procurement processes, and performance failures. Through strategic sourcing and capacity improvement, governments can ensure agility and effectiveness during normal operations and when surges are required.
Proposal Ten: A Strategic Management Reason For Artificial Intelligence
In recent years the government has grown increasing inefficient at managing risk and building resilience. The algorithm they are now following may have worked at one time, but is no longer safeguarding our economic viability and position in the world. For the most part there are too many actions taken now that are spontaneous and inaccurate. This may sound harsh but there are justifications why a majority of people today are dissatisfied with the performance of our government. Instead of properly addressing the business of government, many officials today waste too much valuable time conducting themselves in a manner devoid of civility, diplomacy, consensus, strategic management skills and rational politics.
Proposal 11: Re-Prioritizing Human Capital
COVID-19 disrupted every aspect of life, including our work lives. As many organizations quickly implemented remote work options, individuals too had to adapt. The blurring of work and home lives created new stresses for workers. Further, the pandemic-related job cuts across sectors put American families at risk of losing not only their income, but also essential benefits like health insurance, which are more important than ever. We know that work satisfies many needs: it provides a sense of security via compensation and benefits, it provides an opportunity for achievement and recognition, and it provides connections to clients and coworkers. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted these essential features for many workers. Given these stressors, it is unfortunate but perhaps not surprising that public health researchers found the prevalence of depression to now be three times higher than before the pandemic. In addition to increasing anxiety and depression generally, the pandemic threatens the lives of individuals and their loved ones. This can represent a source of trauma. The short-term and long-term impacts of this trauma remain to be seen, but will certainly be felt by individuals, organizations, and society at large for years to come. In the midst of these substantial disruptions, we have an opportunity to reframe public service work and the workplace to meet the needs of employees in a more holistic and intentional way. Specifically, we have an opportunity to adopt a human capital approach to people management that invests in, and prioritizes, employee well-being. This essay details a vision for the future in which public service organizations recognize – and prioritize - the relationship between worker well-being and organizational performance. This connection is critical for effectively delivering the essential services that impact communities across the nation.
Proposal 12: Securing Data Privacy
All governments should commit to novel ways of securing data privacy. Sensitive data underpin every facet of government (including policy design, its implementation, and effective management) and every aspect of our modern, data-driven economy.
Those commitments could determine how the public views governments - as a partner or as an adversary - in the tug-of-war over the collection, use, and regulation of personal data. Consider the torrent of events that continuously shape all of our views on data security and privacy: from Snowden’s famous warning to Cambridge Analytica’s manipulations, from the Office of Personnel Management data breach to the Blueleaks hack. We have long worried about a world where everything is known, nothing is ever deleted, and powerful forces can use our data in troubling ways. Bentham opined about this in his “Panopticon Writings”; Michel Foucault foresaw the loss of human autonomy to “the Gaze”.
Governments should make three minimal commitments. Administrative commitments would bind the government’s hands in the collection and use of sensitive data. Regulatory commitments would shape the collection and use of sensitive data by firms, nonprofits, and others. Last, contracting commitments on how government contractors collect and use such data would reinforce government’s administrative commitments.
Two nascent technological innovations hold promise. Because private data inform public purposes, differential privacy technologies help protect data privacy when publicly sharing information. Governments should invest in such technologies for uses beyond building demographics or other aggregates. Second, big data and algorithms can lead to deep, intrusive insights, so governments should invest in federated learning technologies. Models that learn and live locally without sharing data through central repositories enhance data privacy. Both technologies help answer longstanding concerns about data, its location, and access. Strong commitments to such technology ecosystems can lead to new and better solutions.