GovTech4Biden is going away, but the next stage of the larger impetus that propelled the successful effort is just beginning.

The Washington-area group of 150-plus government technology veterans is closing up shop after declaring “mission accomplished” – and raising more than $100,000 to support the election of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President.

MeriTalk Founder Steve O’Keeffe, who created GovTech4Biden in June to support the Biden-Harris election effort, said this week that the organization will go into moth balls. But he emphasized that the resulting opportunities to impact Federal IT policies and projects on the national level are only starting to emerge.

“The GovTech4Biden program is over,” O’Keeffe said during a Nov. 24 webinar about the group’s work. “It was started to raise money for the campaign, and that’s what we did. It was a great opportunity to cement existing relationships and build new relationships on the way.” And, he said, “it was probably the most worthwhile program I have ever engaged in.”

Following the hard-fought election, “We are all Americans – that is the path forward,” he said.

Improving Communications

Looking forward, O’Keeffe said the biggest lesson from the GovTech4Biden effort – which included discussions with many of the leading IT voices in Congress – is the technology community needs to do a better job communicating the relevance of technology to addressing the needs of the country, and most importantly, its citizens.

For the government technology community to deliver more effective policy messaging to the incoming administration, its communications to law and policy makers need to jettison the tech jargon, and focus on how technology solves big problems.

“What we have here,” O’Keeffe explained, “is a failure to communicate.”

“We learned that we have a language problem” that highlights more about the intricacies of technology than the problems it can address, he said. “We need to fundamentally change the way we talk about what we do” in order to get the attention of Federal policy and legislative leaders, he said.

“What are the most important words in that language?” he asked. “Healthcare, innovation, workforce training, unemployment insurance, stimulus … Those are the topics that congressional leadership cares about, and that the American people care about. What you don’t find on that list is cloud, FISMA, AI, and IT modernization. We have to map technology to the issues they are talking about.”

“We need to simplify our messages,” O’Keeffe emphasized. “Simple is beautiful.”

Transition Opportunities

Looking forward, O’Keeffe pointed to a rapidly changing Federal leadership and policy landscape that presents multiple opportunities for the tech community to deliver a retooled, more effective message.

Those include the coming months when the new administration works to develop the President’s Management Agenda that will set forth technology priorities for the next four years. They also include the expected arrival of new Federal agency CIOs – some of whom will be political appointees – who will bring to their new jobs fresh sets of priorities.

Another avenue is a program organized by MeriTalk, ACT-IAC, and the Partnership for Public Service focused on post-pandemic recovery. The “Resilient: Government Pandemic Insights for a Safer America” program is synthesizing interviews with hundreds of Federal employees and several high-level roundtable groups to offer operating and policy recommendations to promote stronger and more resilient government operations to advance the recovery.

The program will unveil its findings in January and present them at a public event in February, with the timing designed to help inform the Biden’s administration’s transition agenda and initial moves when it takes office. The Resilient program, O’Keeffe said, “focuses on lessons learned from the pandemic, and how we learn from this experience.”

Also in the works is an Innovation Policy Forum in the spring to engage Capitol Hill leadership, with a focus on House and Senate appropriators. “It won’t be about cloud and AI, it will about things like healthcare, nationwide broadband availability, and workforce training,” O’Keeffe said. “It’s going to discuss new models about what the innovation agenda looks like for America going forward,” he said.

“That’s an open framework, with discussions going on the Hill right now,” O’Keeffe said. “If we want to change the Federal IT funding equation, we have to engage the people that have the money.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.