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Government Procurement Reform

As the workforce evolves and matures, there will be numerous digital natives joining the public service. Space should be protected for current and future public service technologists to design and develop the next generation of public sector tech, in particular in critical areas of government operations.

This will involve revisiting buy versus build conversations. Some solutions should be purchased, others should be built in-house and some cases will be a mix of the two options. Different licensing agreements and open source software should be explored to enable efficiencies of scale and shared code among governments.

There has been severe underinvestment in technical capacity within government over the past two decades. Government tech debt and the state of legacy information technology in government is troubling. Beyond the varied impacts of not building some tech solutions in-house, a lack of technology capacity is also impeding the government’s ability to properly manage technology procurement as a customer.

The new software products for sale in every public sector vertical market will increasingly leverage automated decision making, machine learning and AI. As such, this is the right time to put a moratorium on the purchase of non-critical software related to public service delivery and even more importantly, the gift of free software or systems. Borrowing from context provided for those working in bioethics, consider the idea of primum non nocere (first, do no harm). This idea that sometimes doing nothing is better or safer than doing something is appropriate for our time. The stakes are too high to be making purchasing decisions or tech system use decisions without thoughtful guidance.

A related theme to be considered in this work is the growing and troubling unchecked global consensus around the merits of technocratic governance and data-driven decision making, an approach that informs the creation of government software. This consensus threatens to normalize an efficiency obsession and entrench governance that dilutes and misunderstands the power of political decision making. Some processes and policies are inherently inefficient. Values-based leadership and decision making must be protected.

This is an excerpt from Governance Vacuums and How Code is Becoming Law