I am extremely disappointed with the many glitches in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)/Obamacare. I support the new Health Care Law though. As someone who is 28 years old and has already spent many months without insurance or with catastrophic insurance (that covers shockingly few catastrophic things), I am grateful that there is a well-intended policy attempt to correct this market failure. With the ineffective rollout of the online exchanges, the Administration is taking plenty of justifiable flack for this failure in execution. While many have covered the ACA itself, the far more interesting story is that this is latest example of America’s lack of technological literacy and its catastrophic civic effect.
Alan Greenblatt recently wrote that unique public management circumstances have led to an incongruency between technology and government services resulting in the problematic ACA rollout. Greenblatt acknowledges realities of government like the budget process, political instability, strict procurement rules and hard deadlines certainly complicate matters. The bigger issue is the management of government services that are increasingly built and managed online. Ultimately our political leadership has little technological literacy as Greenblatt writes:
The first problem is that top-ranking government officials often expect these things to be easy. They come up with some application they want started up and then expect the IT guys and their vendors to make it happen. It’s like having no knowledge of what goes on under the hood, and then pulling into the dealership and asking the mechanics to design an entirely new car. “They proudly announce that they don’t understand the technology — ‘My 14-year-old knows more than I do,’ which is a moronic statement,” says Gopal Kapur, founder of the Center for Project Management in California.
Far too few of us are technologically literate, me included. Why aren’t we teaching kids the basics of coding and computers? The question of education for the 20th Century was providing the basic skills for the Industrial Revolution. Math, Science, English, Social Studies were the building blocks of a basic literacy needed to thrive in a manufacturing society. We did this extremely well creating a universal public education system that was the envy of the world and in turn created the economy that was the envy of the world. However, we simply don’t live in the same manufacturing economy anymore and need to once again build the literacy that will drive us into the future.
The language of coding is quickly becoming like Latin in medieval Europe, where it connected an exclusive class of educated leaders across a diverse continent. In order to be educated in 14th Century France, you needed to know Latin. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg and many others feel that the time has come to make their native language universal in our public schools and helped start code.org to advocate for greater tech learning in our schools. It isn’t necessarily charitable, the tech industry has 1 million high paying jobs that go unfilled each year.
Government leaders cannot continue to pass on their ideas to the geeks and expect them to make magic. Code for America has learned this lesson as it places highly skilled tech workers in local governments where they design and implement tech driven policy solutions. These tech savvy fellows are given flexibility and in turn are creating tools to make government work effectively. The connection between the policy and technology is often missing in government services and certainly played a crucial role in the failed ACA rollout. Whether it is in Healthcare or any other needed government service, we need to develop a society where we have a basic understanding of the technological world in which we now occupy.
Matt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis and currates the Civic Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @mrimpink.