Ambassador Susan E. Rice Video Remarks to Anita B.org’s Grace Hopper Celebration
As Prepared For Delivery:
Hi, everybody. I’m Susan Rice, and I’m a policymaker, not a programmer. But, I wanted to join you because the work you do has never been more important to the work we do in government. As President Biden’s Domestic Policy Advisor, it’s my job to drive the formulation and implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda across the Administration. That last part is critical. Because good policy on paper doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t get to the people it’s intended to benefit. Writing legislation is critical. But, so is writing the code that makes that legislation mean something.
During the Obama-Biden Administration, we learned that lesson the hard way with the launch of HealthCare.gov. Partly in response, we worked hard to ramp up the federal government’s internal digital capacity, creating organizations like the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows to bring top engineers and designers into government.
From Day One of the Biden-Harris Administration, the President has made it a top priority to show that our government can deliver results for the American people. I’m lucky to have on my team two Senior Advisors for Policy Implementation and Delivery—Clarence Wardell and Vivian Graubard—who help ensure that we’re reaching real people. They work closely with their agency counterparts and with a world-class team that is largely woman-led—leaders like Robin Carnahan, the Administrator of the General Services Administration; Clare Martorana, the U.S. Chief Information Officer; and Mina Hsiang, the new USDS Administrator.
Together, we work across government to use technology and data to deliver concrete results. Implementing a new refundable Child Tax Credit. Addressing the distressing racial disparities in maternal mortality. Using data to embed equity in everything we do. Thanks to this work, food assistance is getting to hungry families. Veterans are receiving benefits faster and with less paperwork. Voting is being made easier.
The impact is tangible. Last month, the Department of Education was able to waive student loan interest for nearly 50,000 current and former members of our military—helping 880 percent more service members than they did just a couple years ago—just by automating the process. The U.S. Digital Service took our Medicare payment system—which processes 1.2 billion claims annually and still runs on the same programming language that Grace Hopper invented in the 1950s—and harnessed the cloud to improve efficiency 75 percent.
And, there’s more to come. Assuming the President’s infrastructure bill and Build Back Better plan pass Congress, we’ll need to implement a whole host of transformative policies, which could range from child care subsidies to a new paid family leave system.
Now, this is the part where I make the hard sell. A modern government needs modern skills, and it works best if it reflects the people it serves. Right now, though, only 3 percent of the federal technology workforce are under the age of 30—and only a quarter are women. We need you—with all your smarts and all your skills and all your heart—to dare to take on some of our greatest challenges, from a rapidly changing climate to the stain of racial injustice. The issues are too complex not to have everyone at the table, which is why we look to our technical teammates to help develop and implement new strategies. There have never been more opportunities for engineers, designers, data scientists, and product managers to go into public service. And, there has rarely been a greater need.
We recently announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Corps, a two-year fellowship for technologists just beginning their careers to work in government, and I urge you to visit their booth and apply when applications open this fall. Some people might tell you that heading to Silicon Valley would be the safer route. But, as Grace Hopper herself liked to say, “A ship in port is safe—but that’s not what ships are built for.” Take a novel path, come serve your country.
Finally, thank you for the change you’re already making, enjoy the rest of this great celebration, and I hope to work alongside some of you soon.