Government agencies have been feeling the squeeze in their budgets for some time, but looking ahead the spending cuts can only be expected to slice deeper, regardless of whether or not lawmakers manage to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a looming set of cuts and tax increases set to take effect in January absent congressional action.
But as the feds head into a what looks like a time of austerity, expectations for government services remain high. That could translate into a greater reliance on lean, tech-driven private-sector players that can tap into the deep reservoirs of federal and industry data to provide novel, citizen-facing applications, according to Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who now serves as director of government affairs with the consultancy Deloitte & Touche.
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"Politically, while the leaders have been kicking the can down the road, we have this intersection where there are opportunities and government's going to have to do more with less," Davis said in remarks in Washington at the Reboot America conference, an event focused on the intersection of public policy and technology, particularly startups.
"This is a great opportunity for those of you with innovative ideas," he added. "Now is the time you're going to have to do it, because the money just isn't there."
The conference also featured a panel of socially-minded entrepreneurs who are either working with government groups or other sectors to apply technology to advance a particular cause, such as RxAnte, which deploys predictive modeling to make precise determinations about which patients are likely to need reminders to adhere to their medication.
In the energy sector, Opower has partnered with around 70 utility companies to convert their raw usage data into a novel way for consumers to visualize -- and, hopefully, reduce -- their electricity consumption. Opower also makes the data it gleans from its utility partners available through APIs, inviting developers -- and potential competitors -- to create their own applications relating to energy usage.
"From the business side, it makes us a platform," said Michael Sachse, Opower's general counsel and vice president of regulatory affairs. "We have the APIs, and so everyone's coming through us to get to the utility. We feel very comfortable about that position. But also we feel comfortable about the idea that, you know, we want to develop a system in which you're going to get lots of different tools to lots of different people.
"And we feel like we have a mass-communication system which we're very comfortable with, and if someone can come in and build on top of that, that's exciting for us. We get new ideas. Maybe we can get inspired by some of those ideas. But also it makes our other objective -- not just a business end, but an efficiency end -- more likely because you've got more and more people engaging with energy usage in creative ways," he added.