Senior technology figures in the UK and US governments have met to discuss their ambitions for building more digital public services, and announced their intent to work closely together.
UK Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock met with the US chief technology officer Megan Smith, and White House Office of Management and Budget director Shaun Donovan in an effort to strengthen ties between the countries’ technical teams.
The plan is for both governments to adopt best practices from the private sector and use them to create public sector digital services that people will ‘trust and have faith in’.
Hancock said the UK government needs to share knowledge with others, and hinted at the future direction of the Government Digital Service (GDS).
“Without smart, energetic and connected talent our digital program would fall apart. By sharing knowledge and exchanging skillsets we build digital teams that are the best they can be. I’m incredibly proud of all the UK GDS has achieved over the last few years,” said Hancock.
“I look forward to leading the next phase of GDS – transatlantic cooperation will be important in helping the digital operations in both the UK and US government’s scale up and succeed.”
Donovan touted the potential benefits of sharing technology expertise between both nations’ public sectors.
“By [using] the very best of our two nations’ technical and digital talent, we’ll continue enhancing our governments’ ability to deliver critical services like healthcare, veterans benefits, and access to higher education, to American and British citizens alike,” he said.
Smith added: “We have such a long history of close technical collaboration and friendship between the US and the UK. It’s only fitting that we would continue this collaborative spirit for making parallel progress in digital government.”
Details on what exactly will be shared between the governments was not revealed, but if GDS achieves its government-as-a-platform ambitions, whereby digital public services are constructed out of common components, it would not require a leap of the imagination to see the same model introduced into the US.
It could be argued that the proposed sharing of technical knowledge and skills could be one way for the UK government to compensate for the loss of leadership talent from GDS after Mike Bracken’s departure from government.
Author’s view: The UK and US have long been bedfellows in many government activities, and on the surface a sharing of technical knowledge and skills would seem a sensible move by both governments.
But how this will work in practice has yet to be revealed. And despite the ‘special relationship’ between the nations, there is still a divide between both the infrastructure and governmental approaches of UK and US.
For instance while the UK explores the use of technology in the NHS, the US does not yet have an equivalent public sector healthcare service.
Equally there are likely to be differences in how the public adopts digital services when compared to their opposite numbers across the Atlantic.
Perhaps I am being cynical, but with the UK having hit stumbling blocks with its digital services in the past, I think the government will need to be very careful on sharing practices with the US that may not have earnt the prefix of ‘best’ yet.