I’ve heard from countless people who say that as taxpayers, they have come to regard government as unresponsive, inefficient, and lacking transparency. While I fundamentally believe in government’s ability to help confront America’s most pressing social and economic challenges, I know that we need to do much more to improve public trust and connect members of Congress with their constituents.
During my time at the Department of Commerce, I insisted on adopting the latest technology to increase program efficiency and introduced a metrics based approach to measure the rate of return for taxpayers. When I first arrived at Commerce, it was shocking that staffing decisions were made often for political rather than practical reasons. While this is just one example, there are plenty of others like this that illustrate just how inefficient and opaque the federal government has become.
To remove the “black box” and restore faith in our government institutions, it’s going to take a concerted effort from both parties. For starters, we must employ modern practices that produce measurable results – and we need to post these findings in a timely fashion and in an accessible format. This means taking a Silicon Valley approach to governing – leveraging innovative technology wherever possible. This will help us save taxpayer dollars in a time of severe budget constraints – and it will also increase transparency.
Making Government More Efficient and Transparent
Post government spending online. With the national debate over the federal budget and current levels of deficit spending, federal agencies need to post spending data in a standardized and downloadable format. It is commonsense that Americans should be able to access information on how their tax dollars are spent – and it’s an initiative that has bipartisan support. If we improve the quality of data submitted to federal spending databases, we can make better use of analytics to weed out waste and fraud.
Make government data machine-readable. When government makes data available, it spurs economic growth. Since the federal government opened weather data and the Global Positioning System to the public, for example, American innovators have applied the information in the private sector to create better technology like navigation applications and weather warning systems.
We should ensure that government improves its standards so that data is not only available, but also machine-readable. Doing so will streamline useful information, making it accessible to the public while promoting innovation in fields ranging from health and medicine to finance.
Consolidate duplicative federal agencies and programs. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) – a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress – makes annual reports that identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals. Its 2013 assessment identifies 31 areas where agencies could increase efficiency and effectiveness, and suggests 81 actions the executive branch or Congress could take to reduce or eliminate fragmentation and duplication.
The federal government wastes billions of dollars each year on programs with overlapping goals. Congress should heed the GAO’s recommendations and eradicate repetitious programs – doing so would save billions of taxpayer dollars.
Cut government energy expenses. Federal agencies spend over $6 billion annually on energy. These departments should be encouraged to implement energy savings performance and utility energy service contracts to lower costs – goals the bipartisan Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act of 2013 would achieve. I strongly support the bill, which would save taxpayers dollars by opening contract negotiations between federal agencies and energy service companies and conserve energy through retrofits and other measures. Additionally, the bill requires savings to be transparent by posting expenditures online.
Improve cyber security. While the likelihood of a major cyber attack against critical US infrastructure is remote, the probability of an unsophisticated attack made by an isolated state or non-state actor is increasing. Already, websites of companies including the New York Times have been affected by cyber attacks, and the U.S. electric grid is a daily target of small-scale offensives ranging from phishing to malware infection. These same electric grids control core functions, such as power generation – a coordinated attack could significantly impact our country.
A substantial number of U.S. electric grid networks are poorly protected, and many implement no more than the mandatory cyber security measures stipulated by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), putting them several years behind today’s cyber-threat landscape. Congress should increase the standards the U.S. electric grid must meet to be protected against attack. Additionally, Congress should give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) greater authority to ensure that necessary actions are taken to protect the grid.
Using the Internet and Technology as a Force for Democracy
Create a 21st century Congressional office. As the representative from Silicon Valley, I will fully leverage existing technology in designing a congressional website that is focused on engaging people on the issues that matter most and providing responsive constituent services. My website will include portals where residents can have questions answered, receive critical government services, and become stakeholders in the legislative process by accessing and commenting on bills. Nothing can fully replace real Congressional staff helping constituents in the field, but better utilization of technology will improve responsiveness.
Establish an online Congressional outreach platform. The White House’s “We The People” platform makes it easier for citizens to exercise their First Amendment right of petitioning the government. Visitors to the website can start a petition with a question or demand for the President. If it receives enough signatures, the White House will issue a reply.
Congress should implement a similar public platform on its official website to let the public organize and promote ideas for legislation. At the end of each session, the top proposals would be collected, and Congress members would decide whether to draft a bill in response, cosponsor an existing bill, provide an explanation for opposing the proposal, or ignore it at their own risk. This sort of central platform would help individuals organize and speak to Congress in a way currently reserved for special interests, force Congress to respond to voters, and give constituents a new way to engage in the political process.
Mandate online disclosure of interest groups’ independent expenditures. The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, permits corporations, unions, and other organizations to donate unlimited amounts of money as independent expenditures. To give Americans more oversight and to push back against the increasing influence of special interests, Congress should mandate that campaign finance information be made public on a user-friendly online platform. Implementing a government-run platform that standardizes and streamlines campaign finance data will further the public’s interest in electoral transparency and accountability. This platform should include data on campaign contributions and independent expenditures from all sources.