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Pawlenty's "Google Test" Has Fans in Digital Government

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 8 2011

Tim Pawlenty; photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Talking about the need to reduce the size of government, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty says that he thinks about applying "The Google Test." The what now? "If you can find a good or service on the Internet" explained the former Minnesota governor, "then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it."

Now, Pawlenty is coming at things from the small-government angle, of course. But it actually echoes in broad strokes talk that's become common in open-slash-electronic government circles. Take U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, appearing at the Personal Democracy Forum conference yesterday. If normal Americans can get an email account up and running in seconds, asked the Obama appointee, why does it take the federal government forever to do anything online?

"What's really important for us is to make sure that from a consumer technology perspective that we're no longer actually tied to the model that the government is so special that it has to go out there and invent its own set of specialized IT projects," said Kundra. "So what we were able to do is ask a very simple question which is that if a startup company...can provision a financial system by literally firing up QuickBooks and if they can provision an email system by literally going online and signing up, why must the public sector go out there and actually build its own custom multi-million, multi-billion dollar IT systems?"

"That is why we focus heavily on making sure on shifting as much of the government operations as possible to leverage consumer platforms," explained Kundra. The hope and promise is that you can do something to clear the contractor morass and actually provide government employees with something better than the "horrible" tech with which so many of them are burdened day in and day out.

But you can take this sort of thing too far, of course, as both men would likely admit. Paul Krugman, for example, finds how Google can help you put together a private military online. The things on the Internet these days! And as last week's Gmail hacking story that involved the web-based personal email accounts of White House officials makes plain, there are indeed times where the government needs to do things in different ways than the rest of us do, even should they have the Google.

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