The U.S. Digital Services, or the self-described “startup at the White House,” was founded under the Obama administration in 2014 to bring the best tech talent to government and modernize citizen-facing services — but what is the team doing now?
Initially, USDS was a team of 10 focused on digital immigration, veterans’ benefits and HealthCare.gov. After rolling out an online application to join the team in 2015, 1,000 people applied. Since its creation, USDS has formed teams at various government agencies for projects like Hack the Pentagon, College Scorecard and next-generation GPS.
But what’s next for the Digital Services team?
GovernmentCIO Media asked USDS about its goals under its first new administration, talent acquisition strategies and innovation focuses going forward. Below are responses by Eddie Hartwig, USDS deputy administrator.
GovernmentCIO Media: What does the USDS team look like under the new administration? Have there been any changes?
Hartwig: USDS continues to work on great projects, hire great people and do work that matters. Our core values and mission remain the same — to do the most good for the most people in the most need — and after successfully navigating our first administrative transition, we’re happy to see that these values have stood the test of time.
GCIO Media: How does USDS begin looking for new talent?
Hartwig: The USDS talent team tries hard to maintain relationships with all of our hiring partners to stay on top of any recruiting needs. Our technical recruiters are constantly combing skill-specific communities (engineering, product, design, etc.) to build relationships with the best talent, develop diverse candidate pools and leverage networks to attract referrals. It is safe to say, the recruiting team is always recruiting, as the average lead takes months to convert to an active applicant (and candidate) for our hiring pipeline.
GCIO Media: What kinds of spots is USDS looking to fill?
Hartwig: USDS is seeking mission-oriented software engineers, product managers, designers, technical recruiters and recruiting coordinators. We also [have] needs in front office and strategy and operations.
GCIO Media: What is the focus — tech and innovationwise — at USDS right now?
Hartwig: Recently, we have launched new products across several government agencies. At Health and Human Services [Department], we launched a new tool called Quality Payment Program that combines three existing Medicare payment systems into one, streamlining the experience for clinicians and providing the ability to calculate payment scores based on quality rather than quantity of care.
At the Small Business Administration, the USDS team created the Certify platform to modernize 8(a) certification for small businesses, streamlining the process and increasing participation. This will allow more small businesses — especially those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals — compete for government contracts.
And one of our favorite tech success stories at USDS is Login.gov, which is a common identity platform launched to improve and secure the experience of interacting with government online. We have seen substantial growth of Login.gov from 17,000 users in October 2017 to 1.5 million in January 2018, and has 100 percent multifactor authentication. Login.gov is already integrated with Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Travelers Program, and will soon with USAJobs.gov, Social Security Administration, Department of Education and Railroad Retirement Board.
GCIO Media: Is USDS currently working on any specific projects?
Hartwig: USDS is currently working in six agencies on approximately 30 products. In addition to the projects mentioned [above], at the Department of Homeland Security, the DHS Digital Service is working to digitize the N-400 application for naturalization, allowing applicants to apply and track their cases online.
The Vets.gov team at Digital Services at Veterans Affairs recently launched a tool to help veterans learn how to apply for a discharge upgrade. Service members suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual assault while in the military, and those whose sexual orientation was at odds with military policy are officially recognized by the military as being particularly likely to have received unjust discharges.
This new tool will help the estimated 75,000+ affected veterans receive personalized guidance on how to apply for a discharge upgrade. This tool required a collaboration between the Department of Defense, who keeps discharge records, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, who provides benefits should those discharges be upgraded.
GCIO Media: What is USDS excited to tackle in this new year, in terms of projects and talent acquisition?
Hartwig: As it relates to talent, we’re really excited to continue to grow and develop our talent team. We’re always hiring technical recruiters and recruiting coordinators and we’ve recently formed a group within our talent arm — talent management — that will focus on building our culture, retention and developing our USDS teams.
As for projects, USDS is always focused on prioritizing the work that does the most amount of good for the most people. We are open to new projects, and will find a way to deploy talent as those needs arise.
GCIO Media: What do you hope 2018 looks like for USDS?
Hartwig: We foresee even more growth for Login.gov as several agencies have signed [memorandum of understandings] to integrate the service for their users in 2018. We hope to see a strong enrollment period for the QPP tool mentioned earlier. We also plan to continue our work with federal IT procurement, training the civil servants in decision-making roles to better understand the digital and IT marketplace, agile software development methodology, cloud hosting and the DevOps practice of integrating system operations with application development teams.
It can be hard to know where the next need will arise, but USDS remains open to new projects. Our talent team works hard to maintain a pipeline of top recruits to fill urgent roles, but our scope of work can be limited by the time our staff has available to give an opportunity the attention it requires. That being said, our door is always open if there is good to be done for the public, and we are constantly prioritizing our efforts to meet the greatest need.
GCIO Media: How do you envision the future of USDS? Where will it be in five, 10 years?
Hartwig: It’s hard to predict even a year out for USDS, especially given that we are only 3 years old, but we envision continuing to do great work for the American people and building our relationships within the federal government to ensure our efforts are complementary and impactful for the progress [chief information officers] want to see for their agencies. CIOs are busy tackling the large problems that face the federal workforce in a rapidly changing landscape. If USDS can help by focusing on the most acute areas of need, then we consider that a success.
-- Sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive the latest analysis and insights on emerging federal technologies and IT modernization.