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Federal Government Capitalizes from 'Nerds' PR Let Go

The outstanding programming and technology talents in the government are not sufficiently empowered to make significant changes in order to improve efficiency and increase the amount of citizen services that could be offered online.

In fact, these skilled resources tend to find better opportunities in the United States, including the necessary outlets to develop tools to improve social welfare.

Andrés Colón Pérez, former staff member at the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Puerto Rico, and Alberto Colón Viera, former CIO at the Puerto Rico Trade and Export Company, are examples of this trend. Both are currently working at the United States Digital Service (USDS).

This agency—established under President Barack Obama's administration to solve the federal government's information technology issues—holds the best information technology resources to help improve digital services for citizens.

Colón Viera abandoned his post in early 2016 to join the USDS, while Colón Pérez did the same in 2015 after successfully completing a project to improve the criminal record revision system.

They both recently announced the introduction of a new tool to identify the Historically Underutilized Business Zones, commonly known as HUBZones. This tool, available at the Small Business Administration webpage, accurately identifies and locates HUBZones.

For former CIO Giancarlo González, the Puerto Ricans in the USDS team are the type of high-caliber personnel that Puerto Rico needs to advance the inclusion of technology in government services. However, they are not the only ones to stand out, nor are they the only ones who have opted to leave the island.

According to the Migration Profiles drawn by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute, in 2015, approximately 245 computer and mathematics professionals abandoned the island. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regarding employment in Puerto Rico in 2016 shows that there are 10,390 people occupying jobs related to these fields, with an average salary of $18.86 per hour.

'We have excellent programmers here in Puerto Rico. The challenge is knowing where they are, empowering them, and placing them in positions where they have expertise and will be successful, and to avoid hindering their efforts, allowing them to work with the tools and technologies they understand are the right choice,' González told NotiCel.

In that sense, he stressed that to achieve this goal, the first thing to do is to adopt a working model that will give a lower priority to bureaucracy and consultants, which sometimes inhibit progress.

'We need to give more decision-making and enforcement power to these nerds and techies. They know what needs to be done and how to do it best. That is the biggest challenge. I call it ‘Revenge of the Nerds'. We need to pass the baton to them. Right now, what we have are a lot of lawyers, instead of engineers and programmers,' González denounced.

USDS Talent Anxious to Work in Puerto Rico

Even though González said lack of knowledge is one of the obstacles against developing the government's digital sector, he singled out the USDS operational model for its efficiency. 'The USDSworkmodel is to make things smaller and more interactive, helping you ensure it works, that you can measure those results. Then you inject more money and you keep improving it, solong as you can prove that what you're doing is working,' he explained.

The USDS prides itself in having personnel resources that have excelled in companies like Google and Facebook. This responds to the implemented strategy of choosing the best talents in the private industry to improve efficiency in federal government services.

At a local level, the Fiscal Control Board (FCB) included a request in its report to Congress to be able to access USDS personnel to collaborate with the local government. According to González, this idea has resonated in the USDS, especially among Puerto Rican talents.

'The central government needs people who know what they're talking about, and what they need and require, without depending on consultants to recommend those things, which are not necessarily what they need,' González remarked.

Former CIO Giancarlo González (Archive / NotiCel)