Congress Needs to Adopt Tech's Commercial Pace to Better Support Government Organizations

Orhan Cam/

How do you predict the unpredictable?

Erin Hawley is the vice president of the public sector at DataRobot.

How do you predict the unpredictable?

For decades, this question could only be addressed by the largest technology companies. Massive computational resources and a large legislative footprint in Washington were a requirement to gain the attention of decision-makers. Imagine how many ideas were never put forward because of these constraints. What if our government was given access to the same benefits of micro-innovation found in our country’s technology incubators?

Envision real-time innovation brought to scale on the biggest issues facing our country. An idea could not only be the next big thing; it could become something that is also a game changer for society. Companies that can tap into such innovative ethos are what will allow us to begin to realize the goals of the Modernizing Government Technology Act.

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With the 115th Congress in session, members are concerned with pressing issues such as the health and well-being of our nation’s citizens and the protection of our country’s borders. Big data and automated machine learning offer an opportunity for federal agencies to address these challenges with speed and innovation. Commercial enterprises use these capabilities every day as they provide services and products to their consumers in health care, insurance, financial and more.

Yet, only in the most nimble and progressive federal agencies do we see the same thing. It is no longer necessary to spend billions of dollars on maintenance contracts for stagnant technology or award large integrators win after win and then wait while they slowly roll out expensive, custom-built capabilities far behind commercial enterprises.

Congress should look carefully at how, what and why agencies procure the technology they do and provide these agencies with incentives and easier ways to contract with small businesses. They should push for legislation that supports the agile technology firms that don’t have the same size or budget to survive in a landscape dominated by the biggest of firms that walk the halls of Capitol Hill.

Congress should work with the agencies by providing funding for new, sustainable technologies that could bring the unprecedented innovation occurring in our nation’s technology hubs to full scale for all Americans. This could be a boon to so many issues that have never been put to the test of advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence. These are issues of the greatest national importance, such as cybersecurity prediction, health care fraud, enabling law enforcement with more accurate data and insider threat detection, just to name a few.

Machine learning could draw conclusions on these issues by blending data already collected by the government with social media, geographic clues, behavioral data, sensors and other indicators. Doing so could give us insights that could keep us safe and help secure both our borders and our future.

As we move forward into a new legislative session and welcome the Trump administration, let’s give our legislators all the best ideas our technology sector has to offer, not just the ones generated from old paradigms that can limit our choices. Help innovative businesses take their big ideas to the legislative floor and compete for attention based on their merits, not the size of the company who brought them to attention. We have a chance to move to a new paradigm of government innovation. And the time is now.