Obama announces effort to make government more ‘user-friendly’

President Obama said Monday that he will take new steps to make the government work a little bit more like a Silicon Valley start-up — or at least a modern technology company.

After meeting with his Cabinet, Obama said he is directing his administration to come up with a plan to make government more efficient and consumer-friendly, part of an “agenda for my second term that delivers a smarter, more innovative and accountable government for its citizens.”

Overhauling government has proved difficult for the president, who has previously proposed merging agencies and creating a “secretary of business,” with little success.

Obama is now overseeing an expansion of government with the creation of a new system to provide health care to the uninsured. The rollout has had its difficulties, as highlighted last week when the administration said it was delaying enforcement of a requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide health coverage to their workers.

In his remarks at the White House on Monday, Obama recalled that while he was running for president in 2007, he visited the offices of Google and came to believe that the federal government needed to transform itself for the 21st century. He employed technology widely in his campaign, he said, but after he was elected, “I had to fight really hard just to keep my BlackBerry.”

Obama said the administration has already made progress by hiring technology experts from the private sector and introducing policies to make government more efficient. He pointed to the use of the Internet and mobile applications to reach people affected by natural disasters and the opening of troves of government data to the private and nonprofit sectors.

“Dealing with the federal government is not always high-technology, and it’s not always user-friendly,” Obama said. “We’ve worked diligently to change that.”

The president said he has asked Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to lead the new effort.

As one example, Obama said the administration is working on a project called MyUSA that will automatically fill in a person’s information, as some shopping sites do, when someone calls up a form on a government Web site.

“And if you’re applying for federal benefits,” he added, “we think you should be able to track the status of your application in real time, just like you can follow [the] location of a package all the way to your doorstep.”

The president also said that the administration will work to simplify the language of procurement contracts.

“We’re working to make things simpler so it’s easier for more small businesses across the country to bid on projects,” Obama said. “And we’ll help businesses create more jobs doing work that needs to be done — and by opening up more competition to government contracts, we’ll save taxpayers money in the process.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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