Connecticut could save $248 million over a five-year span if officials consider eliminating the jobs of some state workers through the use of better technology, according to a think tank report out this week.
All states could boost their productivity, and save money, by better harnessing information technology resources, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Fund (ITIF), a Washington-based nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank.
“In the same way that technology has driven productivity growth in the private sector, there is a great opportunity for savings by state governments,” Robert Atkinson, founder and president of ITIF and co-author of the report, said in a statement.
“But to achieve this promise of e-government, leaders will need to clearly articulate the goal of replacing labor with technology,” he said. “They will need to take on entrenched political opposition and overcome and array of administrative challenges, including an unwillingness to increase IT investments that would generate significant returns.”
Offering fully digitized services, enabling all government forms to be completed and submitted online and offering more self-service options for consumers are among the changes ITIF advocates.
“Government programs would be leaner, employing fewer workers and using fewer materials,” according to the report. “In short, government would be a highly efficient enterprise that uses technology not only to cut its own costs, but also to boost productivity for businesses and residents.”
The group recommends that Connecticut and other states: replace routine government tasks with online, self-service tools; set dates by which they will no longer accept non-digital interactions; provide chief information officers with more decision-making authority; and account for external productivity gains when devising IT budgets, among other things.
The report, called “Driving the Next Wave of IT-Enabled State Government Productivity,” does not single out Connecticut, other than in a state-by-state list in which ITIF estimates the state could save $248,085,000 over the next five years by implementing its recommendations.
But Donald Cohen, executive director of In The Public Interest, a Washington-based research and policy center, warned of the false promises of potential technology savings.
“There’s no way to ever know how much money is going to be saved,” he said.
And there have been well-publicized IT disasters in several states that tried to replace employees with technology. “Things go wrong,” Cohen said.
He said if the goal is to better connect people to government, then the need to talk to an actual human being is going to be greater. “What we value costs money,” he said.
He also said it’s not surprising that a think tank with a board of Silicon Valley lobbyists would publish a report suggesting that the government spend more money buying services and software from tech companies.
Connecticut already has devoted some resources to updating technology. Most recently, for instance, the state Department of Motor Vehicles shut down for a week in August to upgrade its computer systems. That effort was intended to modernize how state residents interact with the agency.
The DMV also launched a mobile app just over a year ago, in September 2014, that lets users take practice tests in English and Spanish, among other features. DMV officials said in September that the app was downloaded more than 115,000 times in its first year.
The ITIF report maintains that, while individual states have made some advances, none has embraced its full IT-related, money saving potential.
“Imagine a leaner state government that needs fewer workers and materials to get the same or better results,” said Atkinson. “By fully integrating technology into agency operations, governments can cut the time citizens waste standing in line or filling out forms, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and make everyday services more efficient and effective. This not only cuts costs, but also makes everyone more productive — which is essential for state economic growth.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.