Interview: David Bray

Senior Fellow for the People Centered Internet, David Bray was interviewed by Mei Lin Fung in May 2017. He started Mission Impossible Change Agents and promotes the concept of ePublic Service where everyone is involved in Public Service. He has been recognized by CIO.com as a top 100 global Chief Information Officer, the first US Federal government officer to be selected twice.

  1. What challenges are traditional governments facing?

The rapid pace of global change disrupts what was previously the American Dream to get an education, work hard, and be successful. The US representative democracy, complete with division of powers across the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, makes it hard to galvanize traction to address serious issues we face. Expectations are changing in three ways:

  1. That you could have one job in a single field for life is no longer the case in our exponentially changing world, we all will have multiple jobs in life.
  2. That you could graduate from either high school or college and that would be sufficient education for the rest of your work career is also no longer the case. We all will have to be learners for life as our world rapidly changes technologically, economically, and socially.
  3. That In the 1960s the average company listed on the S&P 500 stayed listed for 62 years is no longer the case. The average time on the S&P 500 is less than twelve years; more than half the companies listed on the S&P 500 back in 2001 are no longer listed.

These factors are straining the fabric of our republic – and challenging those who want to do the business of public service.

  1. Why is the work of PCI important especially now?

For me personally, People Centered Internet is front and center of all these exponential changes impacting our world that I discussed above. These changes are impacting individuals, families, local communities, and nations.

If public service efforts were to move to cloud, then we the public could take advantage of streamlined delivery of services. Public service could take advantage of artificial intelligence and other automated steps to reduce the time to get answers or services provided.

In the United States the Founders didn’t intend for the republic to change overnight, you must build coalitions to create lasting large-scale changes. I believe in positive “change agents“, specifically leaders who “illuminate the way” and manage the friction of stepping outside the status quo. Anyone can be a change agent, you do not have to wait to receive formal authority.

We need more people willing to step outside of expectations because our world is changing rapidly, in several cases exponentially. If all we do is meet expectations and the status quo — we will fall behind as organizations, as teams, and as societies.

When you do step out of expectations, you will need to have a strategy for how you will manage the friction associated with stepping out of expectations because a lot of folks don’t like it when you step out of expectations. This is partly why reinvigorating existing organizations or teams can be so difficult, and yet so necessary. Other republics and representative democracies have similar challenges.

Moving public service efforts to digital models that are cloud-based isn’t easy. Experiments are needed to gain expertise and lessons to be learned along the way. There is resistance from people and legacy behaviors in how things “used to be done” — which is why investing in positive change agents to help make the transformation represents a vital step.

  1. You are the first US Federal Government recipient of the CIO.com’s top 100 global CIO to have been selected for a second time, what does this selection mean to you?

It’s truly a team honor — an eighth year of no budget increase, we’re showing we can still do things. The number one most important aspect of any endeavor is people. The top 100 CIOs usually go to Fortune 500 companies, so being recognized twice is only possible because of the great team assembled.

This honor is encouraging to everyone in the organization, both IT and the non-IT programmatic elements. We recognize that in a rapidly changing world we must rethink how we deliver services to make things more streamlined for the public — and we continue to have work to do as both technology and our world continues to change.

  1. You’ve been an Eisenhower Fellow to Taiwan and Australia in 2015, a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow to the United Kingdom in 2007, and have just been announced as a Marshall Memorial Fellow to Europe in 2017; why do you pursue these fellowships in addition to your full-time work?

I enjoy listening and learning to different perspectives. Back in 1998 I volunteered as a crew leader with Habitat for Humanity International while also working in the tech sector. I’d work for a few months and then go overseas, return and work, go back overseas. This allowed me to help build homes and make friends with local volunteers in places like the Philippines, Honduras, Romania, Nepal, Ghana, South Korea, and Kyrgyzstan. I like exchanging ideas and improving ideas.

Traveling overseas as a Fellow allows me time to reflect and incorporate different worldviews, especially on technology and our rapidly changing world. The diversity of perspectives is fascinating, as are the different lenses that people see the world regarding roles of the public and private sector, the future of republics and democracies, and how international cooperation might be possible even during a time of great change in our world.

  1. You are a non-partisan Senior Executive with the US Federal Government, what does that mean and what is your role?

The public doesn’t always distinguish between political leaders and non-partisan Senior Executives — the non-partisans don’t get to set policy however we can work to build bridges if the leaders are supported. For example, I parachuted into the role of a non-partisan Senior Executive back in August 2013.

Prior to my arrival there had been nine CIOs in about eight years, a sign that the Commission and the IT team had been through a lot of turnover. I sensed the need to listen and learn the different narratives surrounding the missions of the 18 different Bureaus and Offices of the FCC, build trust, and work to identify what we could do to make progress together. That act of listening, learning, and synthesizing different narratives is what a non-partisan Senior Executive does to strive to bring together different perspectives and move an organization forward.

Non-partisan senior executives translate directions from the politically elected and appointed leaders to the rest of the government workforce. The Founders of United States intended for it to operate as a representative democracy republic, meaning the public elects leaders and then the leaders set the course for the “ship of state”.

Non-partisans are there to assist, if asked by a political leader, on issues and provide a calm presence during any turbulent environment and help move the nation forward. I responded to the events of 9/11, anthrax in 2001, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, deploying to Afghanistan in 2009 to “think different”, served on different executive branch committees and Commissions.

I’ve worked under multiple Presidents and I’m expected to leave my own political preferences at home — they do not have a place in the workplace. In fact, there’s a law called the Hatch Act where if a non-partisan displays political behaviors or political support for a candidate in the work place, that’s a felony.

  1. What are recent articles that might be triggers for the work that lies ahead for PCI?

I’ve had multiple discussions with John Taschek of Salesforce on how we might approach the conversation of ethics and artificial intelligence in a way that recognizes different people will have different preferences and perspectives. Also, I have also participated in multiple CxOTalk video interviews with Michael Krigsman and several guests on his show regarding the possible impacts of artificial intelligence to business, privacy engineering, healthcare, ethics, and public service.

Too often we focus on what the technology can do and miss chances to think now about the future we can choose in how we organize, how we work together.

How can we best ensure benefits extend to the greatest number of people? Social policies usually try and play catch-up with technologies, yet in a period of exponential change — “catching-up” is not sufficient, do we need a large transformation to “leap frog”?

These questions that determine whether technology leads to a good vs. bad outcome for individuals and society at-large are human questions on how we use the technologies, not the technologies themselves.

No one person has all the answers, however collectively we can think, reflect, and help shape the future before it impacts us all. It’s been shown that a diverse group of people and industries lead to better decision outcomes. I think we need a similar diversity — and appreciation for difference perspectives on issues — in the current and future choices ahead for us as societies.


Congratulations to David for his upcoming move to the National GeoSpatial Agency where he will be the Chief Venture Officer @chief_ventures. We are proud of the #ChangeAgent momentum he advocates for People-Centered initiatives and People Centered Internet.

1 comment on “Interview: David BrayAdd yours →

  1. Enlightening thoughts from Dr. Bray on how our world is changing and we need change agents to help bridge these digital transformations.

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