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Gaining Access: Federal Technology Initiatives to Transform the Way Local Leaders Operate

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sean Ziller
June 9, 2019

Some public administrators may look toward the shifting technological landscape with unease, possessing reasonable concerns that the trusted processes behind their own work could be impacted. Yet it’s not always at their discretion as to when such change will occur. Nevertheless, each individual administrator within impacted policy areas—no matter how local—will be crucial to ensuring successful implementation of loftier policy goals. This is true particularly when public service initiatives originate on, or are dictated by, the federal level.

However, this process is easier said than done.

Often possessing unique challenges, implementation of a broad initiative, such as a nationwide expansion of wireless communications, must be approached with renewed pragmatism by all players involved across all levels of government. With varying agendas and, at times, competing strategy decisions being made by those “at the top” seeking to realize a chief executive’s proposed plan, a cascading effect on how local administrators carry out those strategies can occur. Therefore, it will ultimately be up to the dedicated leaders in our field to ensure that the goals of any executive initiative are clearly and routinely understood. It’s also critical that the capabilities and resources of our own departments or agencies, should they be involved in a given policy effort, be carefully evaluated so as to best anticipate any administrative shifts.

Take into consideration the recent focus by the White House to encourage critical infrastructure expansion through the use and application of enhanced technologies. More specifically, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has sought to capitalize on growing calls for greater wireless access  across urban and rural areas of the country. It has done this by supporting such developments as enlarged 5G networking. As detailed by Mashable’s Rachel Kraus in, “What Trump’s Big 5G Push Means for You,” wireless networking utilizes radio waves, and 5G expansion intends to increase internet speeds over a greater number of radio frequencies. This would thereby allow for continuous communication between a user’s devices. By designating such technological growth as a policy and R&D priority of the President, the ways in which local leaders approach and anticipate such change will inevitably be impacted. In addition, as noted by David Shepardson in his Reuters article, “Trump Says He Opposes Nationalizing U.S. 5G Network,” President Trump has advocated for more private industry involvement in this endeavor. Particularly as new policies are issued in support of such long-term plans, we will have to determine how these plans fit into the context of our work. We will need keep this in mind as these initiatives are funneled through the strictures of state and other local government with the potential interests of regional business.

The OSTP, following President Trump’s 2018 Presidential Memorandum on the subject, sought to offer recommendations for an expanded R&D environment in which the, “Broad communications needs of the nation could be met.” While one of the Office’s primary reports focused on the advancement of these priorities as they relate to the Federal and private sectors, highlighting the need for public-private efforts that strengthen overall, “Economic prosperity, national security and public safety,” of the country, a secondary report explored how these particular technologies could impact non-federal spectrum demand and, thereby, existing management. Three key priorities were offered to illustrated how spectrum access, needed to transmit large amounts of data that support emerging network technologies, could be increased:

Priority #1: “Pursue spectrum flexibility and agility to use multiple bands and new waveforms.”

Priority #2: “Improve near real-time spectrum awareness.”

Priority #3: “Increase spectrum efficiency and effectiveness through secure autonomous spectrum decision making.”

It is important that we begin to evaluate the transformation toward more flexible and rapid infrastructure systems that our work may shape. Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger of The New York Times, in their article, “Trump Announced 5G Plan as White House Weighs Banning Huawei,” sought to put this 5G plan and its aforementioned priorities into understandable policy context, while also illustrating the burden likely to be placed on state and local systems. As noted by Barnes and Sanger, spectrum advancement of this nature is expected to necessitate an overhaul of the nation’s cellular networks. Furthermore, critics of the President’s plan contend that, due to the focus on high-band spectrum rather than other available forms, officials in rural America will likely have greater difficulty facilitating expanded wireless access.

Particular if greater public-private partnerships, where they haven’t existed before, are mandated as part of fulfilling this initiative, these combined factors will lead to public administrators having to transform how they operate, who they operate alongside, and likely in what ways their organizational objectives begin to transform. States leaders and local administrators will need to evaluate their own regional and institutional preparedness in order to manage an enlarged technical framework, one in which business leaders potentially have greater strategic input than ever before. This will require sharpened communication skills, a thorough knowledge of the logistical standing of one’s organization and its partners, and an ability to make effective decisions that can be unanticipated when attempting to navigate an often overwhelming technological environment.


Author: Mr. Sean L. Ziller is a policy analyst and consultant with Conduent State and Local Solutions, Inc. in Philadelphia. He possesses a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from King’s College (Wilkes-Barre, PA) and a Master of Public Administration degree from Pennsylvania State University, with graduate certificates in Public Budgeting & Financial Management and Public Sector Human Resources Management. All opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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