U.K. Official Urges U.S. Government To Adopt A Digital Core

Elise Hu | NPR | October 23, 2013

When he read about the plaguing HealthCare.gov, Mike Bracken said it felt like a real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day. During the past decade, the government in the United Kingdom faced a string of public, embarrassing and costly IT failures. Finally, a monster technical fiasco — a failed upgrade for the National Health Service — led to an overhaul of the way the British government approached technology.

Instead of writing behemoth, long-term contracts with a long list of specifications for outside contractors, Parliament greenlighted the creation of the Government Digital Service, a "go-team" of 300 technologists who began streamlining 90 percent of the most common transactions the British people have with government. It appointed Bracken, a tech industry veteran, as the first ever executive director of digital — a Cabinet-level position.

Two years later, gov.uk is a single, simple platform connecting the hundreds of British agencies and allowing people to pay taxes, register for student loans, renew passports and more. Doing technology this way is saving British taxpayers at least $20 million a year, according to government estimates.

Not everyone is onboard with the reforms. For one, becoming "digital by default" means those who prefer a more analog relationship with government services are forced to adapt. And one of Bracken's biggest critics is a man named Tim Gregory. He argues that putting technologists at the heart of government stifles business investment in the U.K. Gregory is the U.K. president of CGI, the global contractor whose American arm was the biggest contractor on HealthCare.gov. (Bracken calls Gregory's complaint "beyond parody.")