The US Government Needs to Invest in Digital Design

Illustration of US Government Seal depicting a bald eagle holding a computer mouse and photoshop icon - Illustration: Sam Whitney; Getty Images

The US Government Needs to Invest in Digital Design
WIRED, January 17, 2021
By Ro Khanna and Shaun Modi

“Our nation’s failure to invest in information technology has severely limited our Covid response. A federal chief experience officer could change that.”


“How is it that, in the middle of a national health crisis, Amazon can track inventory in its warehouses in real time while CDC’s vaccine numbers lagged for more than a week?”


Imagine if, when the president addressed the nation in those early, frightening days of March 2020, he had announced the launch of a user-friendly digital hub for citizens to access critical government services related to Covid-19. The site and corresponding iOS and Android apps would seamlessly integrate the latest Covid data and content from multiple federal agencies, hospitals nationwide, and private sector companies. It would be accessible to all Americans—supporting 62 languages, and those with visual disabilities or limited internet access would have a phone number they could call to speak to a knowledgeable representative with no wait time. You could easily find the latest data on confirmed cases, study interactive animations of how the virus spreads, search for the hours and location of your nearest testing site, schedule a test, file for an SBA loan, and check on your loan approval status in the queue. The hub would integrate with state and local websites to keep you aware of the latest mandates from your governor and county officials. Today, you’d be able to schedule a vaccine appointment for you and your family through the site. Throughout the pandemic, you’d check the site daily, building your confidence in the government’s response efforts and its ability to protect your safety.


A site with these features is not at all out of reach technologically. And yet, the federal government has provided no such resource for the American people.


As the vaccination effort continues across the country, reports of buggy and confusing websites needlessly slowing down the process have emerged. Rapid distribution of urgently needed medical supplies, loans for small businesses, stimulus checks, and unemployment benefits have similarly been delayed by the government’s continued use of outdated technology and confusing digital resources. Our nation’s failure to invest in federal and state information technology has severely restricted our ability to effectively respond to the Covid-19 crisis. That’s why the country needs a new federal officer in charge of the American citizen’s digital experience—a chief experience officer of the United States.


The world’s most successful technology companies have shown us just how vital the role of design is in the process of innovation. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to build a successful digital business without design and customer experience at its core. You won’t find a company road map that doesn’t have it—except, apparently, the US government’s.

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About the Authors:

Ro Khanna represents California’s 17th Congressional District. He sits on the House Budget, Armed Services, and Oversight and Reform committees.

Shaun Modi, a technologist and entrepreneur, cofounded the design and innovation group TM. He was an early design leader at Airbnb and Google. Shaun worked on lunar habitat and vehicle design for NASA.