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  • Author: Catherine McAnney
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Lessons from the software behind America’s immigration system show us why modern technologists, from product managers to designers, are needed in government now more than ever. We know government tech projects often fail. Timelines get pushed out, contractors rapidly turn over, costs increase, and, ultimately, public services fail to meet the needs of the American people—often just as they need them most. One of the major reasons for these problems is that the federal government does not have the modern technical talent necessary to deliver large-scale IT programs that consistently work for the end user. This does not just include software engineers, but designers, researchers, and product managers too. In this case study, we’ll look at this issue through the lens of one of the most storied federal IT programs—the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) Electronic Immigration System (ELIS). We found that the program had challenges with its technical talent through the burdensome, nontechnical oversight and the lack of technical expertise on the ground. This case study pulls information from 13 GAO and OIG reports between 2005 and 2021, as well as interviews with 6 current or former senior leaders within USCIS, with a particular focus towards the technical talent associated with the project.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Immigration, Governance, Information Technology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Akhil Iyer
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Quantum computing refers to the use of quantum properties—the properties of nature on an atomic scale—to solve complex problems much faster than conventional, or classical, computers. Quantum computers are not simply faster versions of conventional computers, though they are a fundamentally different computing paradigm due to their ability to leverage quantum mechanics. Harnessing quantum properties, namely the ability for the quantum computer bits (called “qubits”) to exist in multiple and interconnected states at one time, opens the door for highly parallel information processing with unprecedented new opportunities. Quantum computing could potentially be applied to solve important problems in fields such as cryptography, chemistry, medicine, material science, and machine learning that are computationally hard for conventional computers. Although it is still unclear which specific tasks can benefit from parallelized quantum processing, known as quantum parallelism, it is expected that solutions to a number of problems, especially those related to optimization, can be greatly accelerated by using a quantum computer. Though the field is still in its early stages, the anticipated opportunities offered by the unique computational power of quantum computers have attracted investment from not only research universities, but also startups, technology giants like Google, IBM and Microsoft, and directed investment by governments around the world. This cross-sectoral ecosystem has supported recent progress in underlying hardware, software, and algorithms necessary to make the computers work. The field has seen rapid advancement, however systems that can accomplish various kinds of computation, and especially those that can be commercially viable, are still likely to be decades away. There are expected to be some near- term applications on the horizon though, making quantum computing as relevant as ever. Currently, U.S. governance and regulation regarding quantum computing—a subset of the broader field of quantum information science, which also encompasses quantum communication and quantum sensing—focus on investments in the technical knowhow, collaborative research ecosystem, and human capital required to advance the technology. Given quantum computing’s potential for impact, especially in the fields of digital security, healthcare, energy, and machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is important for policymakers to understand the likely trajectories of the technology over the coming decades, as well as the pace of development both within the U.S. and abroad. Furthermore, policymakers must consider how to effectively promote the development, application and implementation of general-purpose quantum technologies to realize their larger economic and social benefits, while simultaneously mitigating foreseeable risks to privacy, safety, security, and inclusion.
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Governance, Regulation, Privacy, Quantum Computers
  • Political Geography: United States of America