Government // Leadership
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8/1/2013
11:30 AM
Nitin Pradhan
Nitin Pradhan
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Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?

A cabinet-level Dept. of Tech will help U.S. retain leadership position in the global high-technology sector, argues former Department of Transportation CIO Nitin Pradhan.

I came to the U.S. in the early 1990's, on a fellowship from an American university. I was exploring several countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but I decided on the U.S. because of its leadership in technology. I have been fortunate to have a great career here, including being appointed by President Obama as the CIO of the Department of Transportation and the FAA in his first term.

Now my "iKids" are growing up and I want them to thrive in the U.S. technology industry. But will this industry continue to flourish in U.S.? What can we do today to ensure our continued technology leadership in the future?

Why Tech Industries Grow

Tech industries grow because of the availability of research and development dollars, a high-quality education system, a tech-savvy workforce, a large local technology marketplace and government incentives. The U.S. has no intrinsic advantage in the technology industry. Past wins have been a function of dollars invested, bipartisan leadership and lack of global competition.

[ The U.S. government needs more top IT talent. Read 5 Habits Of Highly Effective Government IT Leaders. ]

However, now the global competition is heating up -- just ask Apple, HP, Ericsson and Boeing, and they'll tell you Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei and Airbus are tough global competitors. South Korea, China and the European Union governments are investing heavily in the growth of the tech industry. The U.S. government is investing in technology industry too, but its focus is mainly on defense, and with sequestration these investments are being reduced. I believe a more direct, consolidated, coordinated and planned approach toward technology investments is needed to keep our leadership strong.

Tech Remains the U.S.'s Future

According to TechAmerica Foundation's 2013 Cyberstats report, U.S. high-tech employment totaled 5.95 million in 2012, with average wages of $93,800 -- 98% more than the average private sector wages of $47,000. According to some additional recent data, U.S. high-tech jobs are growing at three times the rate of other private sectors, and each tech job creates more than four jobs in the wider economy, thanks to wages that are 17-27% higher than other sectors. If we want to create more of these jobs for our kids, we need a mechanism to support that future.

Needed Now: Department of Technology

We need to create a new cabinet-level Department of Technology (USDoTech) now, while we are still leading in the technology world. The goal of the department should be to drive collaborative public-private technology innovations that maximize public value through private growth.

The notion of a cabinet-level technology department is not new. James Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, established MinTech, the first Ministry of Technology, in 1964. China today has Ministry of Science and Technology; India has a Ministry of Communications and Information Technology; and South Korea has MSIP (the Ministry of Science), ICT and Future Planning to "build a creative economy for the happiness of all people."

How to Create USDoTech?

President Obama, to his credit, established the first chief information officer and chief technology officer positions in the federal government. However, neither has cabinet-level authority, and with few resources available, the impact on the growth of this important sector has been limited.

One way create a cabinet-level department is by consolidating a number of technology-centric offices spread across various federal agencies that often work in an uncoordinated and sometimes even counterproductive way. Some examples include the technology-focused sections of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and many others.

Centralizing the technology leadership functions in these departments will give government a clearer, more holistic picture of the needs, challenges, opportunities, and threats for this fast-growing sector, allowing it to more effectively craft policies, legislation, and regulations and promote appropriate public-private investment strategies to keep U.S. leadership dynamic. We don't need a humongous new department like Homeland Security – just a right-sized, efficient, tech-savvy group that will deliver results.

Congress: Technology Oversight Needs Change Too

As mentioned in my recent article in the Fast Government Report published by The IBM Center for the Business of Government, the Congressional governance of federal government investments in the technology portfolio is fragmented and is therefore not conducive to seeing the benefits of integrated approaches to technology.

Congress has 21 Senate committees, 22 House committees and many more subcommittees, which directly or indirectly have oversight over technology initiatives and investments in federal agencies. However, technology today is highly connected infrastructure, and a holistic view and investment strategy is key to future success. It is therefore essential that Congress establish a technology committee focused on maximizing transformative use of technology and effective involvement of private industry for the benefit of the country.

Next Steps: Get Involved

How do we create the "USDoTech" with this polarized Congress? Crowdsourcing, of course!

If you support the concept of a cabinet-level technology department, forward this article and talk to your friends and family today. "Like" the initiative on Facebook, and suggest the roles and responsibilities for this new department now. Call your Congressional representatives and senators and ask them to enlist Congressional Research Services (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to study the matter and work with the private sector to build a definitive bipartisan plan.

Finally, if your company has a government affairs department, ask it to lobby the federal government to support this worthy cause. Together, we can create this necessary department with no increased cost to taxpayers and keep the U.S. a leader in high-tech for years to come.

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Roses_R_Red
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Roses_R_Red,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2014 | 4:22:35 PM
Department of Technology
I don't think it's necessary to create a cabinet level US Department of Technology. There is such a thing as too much. I believe that the United States can create a Technology Administration within one of the other cabinet level departments and still be effective at helping technology to spread into everyone's hands without giving the tech industry too huge of a political voice. I worry about the political dangers of creating a cabinet level agency solely for technology. There are already too many cabinet level departments as it is.
GeorgeJ404
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GeorgeJ404,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2013 | 4:26:31 AM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
A former bureaucrat suggests that we need more bureaucracy?

He also might have more credibility if the company he founded, after he made connections in DC, wasn't trying to siphon tax dollars.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
8/2/2013 | 8:45:36 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
Mr. Pradhan is right, the idea of creating a Ministry for Technology is not new and has been attempted in many socialist style democracies where the government is sought to provide for or regulate everything. The USA has, thankfully in my opinion, managed to avoid this stagnation of government intervention which has allowed innovation in the private sector to flourish. I would challenge though that the foundation for a cabinet level entity already exists (CIO Van Roekel) and the idea is simply a formality. Drawing the lines is traditionally tough for interagency government entities though. Why not include the Cyber Warfare sections of DoD, NSA, and DHS? Would we place NOAA under that rather than Commerce and then what would be left in Commerce? Has the OCIO proven itself such a resounding success at coordinating across the board FedGov initiatives that it can be expanded and formalized?
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
8/2/2013 | 8:44:21 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
Except for the National Defense Highway System (the Interstates), the feds don't build a lot of roads. Most are state and local. Of course, that's beside the point, nowadays, since roads are out with bureaucrats and high-speed rail is all the rage. Here in Houston we spent $10,000 a foot (literally) on a 7 mile route that 'goes to' lots of places, but doesn't 'come from' anywhere near where people live. Metro exaggerates ridership (one person going on a ride that passes 7 stops is reported as 7 rides) to meet their ridership goals. But hey, it took about 300 cars off the road in its first year (by crashing into them). Typical gubmint project, but California is doing their best to make it look good...

Chris, bureaucracies sometimes start out doing OK, but essentially all will quickly devolve over time. Look at NASA. In 9 years we got to the Moon, but now we can't get a man into LEO without hitching a ride with the Russians. The next American rocket to get a man into orbit will be run by SpaceX.

Or consider Head Start; the government's own studies show that there is no discernible improvement after 3d grade, but we continue to throw almost $20,000,000,000 at it every year. Try and apply logic to that one.

Its not that no good comes from government, but certainly the way to bet is that giving the job to them isn't going to end well.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/2/2013 | 8:02:03 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
I'd need to hear a stronger argument on what the problem is that this department would solve. I disagree with OldUberGoober's notion below that the government does nothing well -- think creating shared infrastructure like roads. But technology tends to be the opposite, fueled by highly distributed efforts.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
8/2/2013 | 4:50:45 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
Do we never learn? The government is BAD at almost everything it does, and even in the very rare cases where it does a decent job (mostly parts of the military) it spends an inordinate amount of money doing so.

Government tech picking gave us Solyndra and A123. I don't think a political appointee presiding over a few tens of thousands of bureaucrats is going to help create the next Apple or Microsoft.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
8/2/2013 | 3:21:47 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
I'm not quite in the "lunacy" camp, but I'm highly skeptical that we need yet another government agency. This country has managed to lead the technology world without guidance from a Cabinet-level federal government bureaucracy. Here's a rule of thumb: For every Cabinet-level department we create from now on, we need to retire two that have outlived their ability to produce a strong ROI.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
8/1/2013 | 6:22:11 PM
re: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?
Most outsiders would think its lunacy to create another cabinet department, let alone one devoted to technology, given government's history with DHS. But this is an intriguing, out of the box way to look at the growing need to get govt. and the nation better repositioned to leverage technology in a global economy. l'll be interested to hear what others have to offer.
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