When we have so much in our lives that is digital and delightful, we expect our government to deliver for people in their time of need. Despite helping pioneer advancements such as the internet and global positioning system (GPS), the federal government is not widely known for its technological ability, though recent efforts are helping turn these tides. And, as public policy making is more and more wrapped up in the opportunities and issues presented by technology, having technologists in government has become essential to good governance and policy making.
What role can software engineers, designers, product managers, and other technologists play in shaping tech policy and building a modern government that is responsive to people’s needs and life experiences? What might President Kennedy’s call to public service look like recast in the 21st century? What opportunities are available for new and recent graduates to get involved in the work of civic tech?
Hear a Biden Administration Cabinet-level official and a Harvard College alum discuss how civic technology, technological expertise in government, and “making the damn websites work” (as GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan says) can help rebuild trust in our democratic institutions, restore the public’s faith that the government can work for all, and improve the way government approaches technology and its impacts.
This event is open to all Harvard students and affiliates. Members of the general public are welcome to attend, but must register in advance and will need to show photo ID at the main entrance.
Robin Carnahan currently serves as the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
As Administrator, she is working to empower GSA career professionals and build on the agency’s efforts to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to the government and American people.
Prior to joining GSA, Carnahan served in executive and leadership roles in business, academia and government, including as the Secretary of State of Missouri (2005-2013), and founded and led the State and Local Government Practice at 18F, a tech consultancy, inside GSA (2016–2020). She’s a nationally recognized government technology leader and in 2017 was named one of the federal government’s “Top Women in Tech.” Most recently, Carnahan was a Fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center where she co-founded the State Software Collaborative.
As Secretary of State, Carnahan also served as the state’s Chief Election Official and State Securities Regulator and was responsible for providing in-person and online services to hundreds of thousands of customers. An essential part of her job was leading the office’s technology modernization efforts across 7 operating divisions. She frequently speaks, writes and testifies about government innovation through smarter use of technology.
While previously at GSA, Carnahan helped federal, state and local government agencies improve customer facing digital services and cut costs. She focused on training and empowering non-technical executives on ways to reduce risk and deliver better results for the public by more effectively budgeting, procuring, implementing, and overseeing digital modernization projects.
Carnahan holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from William Jewell College and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Chris Kuang (he/him) is co-founder of the U.S. Digital Corps, a two-year federal government fellowship recruiting early-career technologists to contribute to high-impact efforts including in public health, cybersecurity, and streamlining government services. The Digital Corps was launched in 2021 by the Biden-Harris administration and operates out of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
Prior to the Digital Corps, Chris co-founded and led the nonprofit Coding it Forward, which has placed hundreds of technology students in meaningful public service experiences in federal, state, and local government agencies. He graduated from Harvard College and previously worked as a Research Assistant for the Technology and Public Purpose (TAPP) Project at Harvard Kennedy School, where he co-authored a report on science and technology policy capacity in the United States Congress.
Nick Sinai is a venture capitalist, author, and former U.S. Deputy CTO in the Obama White House.
At Harvard Kennedy School, Nick is a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and previously was the inaugural recipient of the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellowship. Nick also served as Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy; starting in 2016, Nick designed and taught an award-winning field course, Tech and Innovation in Government, and more recently taught Policy Design and Delivery II.
Nick is a Senior Advisor at Insight Partners and serves on the boards of Shift5, Hawkeye360, Rebellion Defense, and LeoLabs. Nick also serves as a commissioner on the Atlantic Council’s Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption.
In the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 2010 to 2014, Nick led President Obama’s Open Data Initiatives, co-led the Open Government Initiative, and helped start the Presidential Innovation Fellow program. Prior, Nick played a key role in crafting the National Broadband Plan at the FCC.
Nick is the co-author, with Marina Nitze, of Hack Your Bureaucracy: Get Things Done No Matter What Your Role On Any Team, published in 2022.
Moderator: Laura Manley
Laura Manley is the Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center, and is an experienced leader in higher education and non-governmental organizations, with over a decade of experience using data and technology for the health of democratic societies.
As the inaugural director of the Technology and Public Purpose Project at the Belfer Center, Laura built a thriving program of fellowships, publications, awards, and policy resources that aim to steer rapid technology-driven change in directions that serve the public good. In this role she testified before Congress twice on improving technology expertise and capacity in government. Her work at TAPP centered on improving the way institutions like Congress understand and use technology, so that they can make better public policy decisions.
Previously, Laura co-founded the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE), a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. that works with governments to leverage data for social and economic good. At CODE she worked with over a dozen U.S. federal agencies on their data management strategies and with eight national governments on digital economy policies and IT modernization efforts. She previously served as Senior Consultant for the World Bank Group and the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs.
Laura has also served as an Adjunct Professor at the NYU Wagner School of Public Policy, and as an Instructor at the Harvard University Extension School. Earlier in her career, Laura spent years working in the mental health field leading an advocacy and awareness organization.