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Driving Innovation in the Federal Workplace

Perhaps you’ve heard the business mantra, instead of giving people what they think they want, it’s better to give them something they don’t know they need. Truly innovative ideas fuel our imagination and inspire us to explore and expand our definition of the possible. These ideas ask probing questions: How can we do something better, faster, safer, or smarter? How can a method be more efficient? Is an expensive part or process necessary?

Groundbreaking innovation is usually associated with the private sector, but what if the same kind of mindset that drives a thriving innovation economy could fuel a new culture in government? The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is uniquely positioned as an agency purpose-built to, as its mission states, “improve federal government performance and ensure accountability for the benefit of the American people.” Nested within that mission, we established the Innovation Lab in 2019 to help government oversight evolve with new technologies rather than react to their emergence. As GAO’s Chief Data Scientist and the Director of the Lab, I help spark the art of possible at the agency, aiming to transform the way we think about and use emerging capabilities in support of GAO’s oversight, insight, and foresight functions.

Revolutionizing Oversight, Saving Taxpayer Dollars

The federal government is the nation’s largest single employer, and discretionary spending accounts for roughly a third of the federal budget. The size, scale, and pace of government poses notable challenges, but also incredible opportunities to drive equitable change and affect the lives of nearly every American citizen and our allies abroad. Instead of lending another voice to the chorus of oversight, the Lab is seizing this opportunity to explore new ideas.  We examine how technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud services, data science, and extended reality might provide solutions to the grandest accountability challenges faced by our government. As we explore how advanced capabilities and new tools will revolutionize the work of auditors and other government employees, we look not only at their potential application but also at the challenge of properly auditing these emerging technologies.

Sharing Lessons Learned, Exchanging Ideas

The Lab’s techniques have already begun to inspire new approaches, and have the potential to save billions of taxpayer dollars across the federal government. As we continue to refine the Lab’s work, there has been and will continue to be both success stories and lessons learned. When these lessons emerge, one of the most important things we can do as an organization is to communicate with our community, and strive to collaborate across agencies. Lessons learned and success stories should be shared widely so that our auditors and analysts, and those employed throughout our government, can use our work to inform their own decision making. The exchange of ideas is critical to innovation, and without it our Lab would fail to provide its transformative value.

Looking around the Lab’s physical space at GAO Headquarters, I see some of the brightest minds in the federal workforce, tackling tough problems and thriving in ambiguity. Technology advances and generates new potential applications every day. We aim to help our entire government, and the American taxpayer, harness that potential.

Taka Ariga is GAO’s first Chief Data Scientist and Director of the Innovation Lab. As an integral part of the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team, he helps GAO develop and implement advanced analytical capabilities for its auditing practices. Prior to joining GAO, he held executive positions at Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he worked with audit, compliance, legal, and regulated entities.

Taka earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He is natively fluent in both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. In his spare time, Taka is a serious amateur classical chamber musician (playing cello throughout the Washington, DC region), as well as a competitive tennis player.

Photo by Rodrigo Santos on pexels.com

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