Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better

Metropolitan: Holt. Jun. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781250266774. $29.99. POL SCI
Pahlka (founder, Code for America) analyzes the gap between U.S. government technology requirements and implementation. The author argues that government technology failures, such as the infamous launch of healthcare.gov, are due to a number of factors and not solely the fault of the codebase. Often, systems are created to meet stringent regulations and inflexible requirements, which limits technologists’ control over the final product. Many technology modernization mandates add new features without reworking the underlying code, which leads to a clunky user experience, adds to maintenance, and requires experienced staff to operate. Staff also lack the incentive to take risks and are constrained by legalistic thinking. The book looks at rules and the changes that caused the U.S. government to fall behind in technology innovation, where they previously had been pioneers. Pahlka uses case studies and interviews with public servants to illustrate the problems, offers recommendations for fixing the situation, and asks technologists to consider a career in public service.
VERDICT A fascinating exploration of technology and policy in the U.S., which will likely resonate with public-sector technologists.
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