Uncle Sam Still Needs You!

Boston Public LIbrary / Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license.

On today, America’s birthday, I will say it again: Uncle Sam Needs More Geeks.

If you are a talented technologist, data scientist, product manager, or design professional — there is no better time than NOW to serve.

America’s veterans, students, doctors, citizens, and immigrants all need a government that works better. It’s a non-partisan issue that we can all agree on.

Yesterday I was on Government Matters, a DC-area TV show, talking with host Francis Rose about how tech units like the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows work to appeal to people in the tech industry.

These tech units have been able to recruit talent from across the country to work on important missions, like fixing Medicare, simplifying veteran-facing services, or helping military families.

All three of these units have term-limited positions, generally hiring for one or two years.

Interested? Here is a bit more about each:

U.S. Digital Service

The U.S Digital Service was formed in the aftermath of the Healthcare.gov rescue, and has grown beyond just rescuing failing government IT systems.

Today, USDS is focused on delivering better government services to the American people through technology and design by:

  • improving our nation’s most important public-facing services (with an emphasis on user-centered design and iterative software development);
  • modernizing technology and digital services procurement;
  • developing common platforms and tools; and
  • bringing top technical talent into government.

With roughly 175 people inside the Executive Office of the President and a handful of federal agencies, USDS continues to do great work. Since they are term-limited, a majority of USDS employees have been hired since the Presidential election.

Check out the 2017 USDS Report to Congress to get a sense of their projects, or listen to Acting Administrator Matt Cutts’s recent podcast with Kara Swisher. Matt gives an important shout out to the “fantastic, dedicated, passionate civil servants” already in government that USDS works closely with.

One of my favorite USDS projects has been their work to simplify veteran-facing services. USDS helped launch Vets.gov, a single website for veterans to find the information and services they need. Recently, USDS was instrumental in making it possible for veterans to see a digital summary of their health and benefits services across the VA.

USDS is focused on hiring technologists that represent the makeup of the country in all ways: race, gender, geography, etc. Currently, USDS is almost half women, and 60% of the leadership is women.

As an important aside, the current President’s budget asks for $25M for USDS, and so far the House has offered $15M and the Senate $19M. I would argue that Congress should give USDS far more, like $50M. To put that in context, USDS engineers helped VA avoid $100M in new data center costs by introducing cloud technologies and advising on their actual needs.

Check out more of the USDS work and their playbook.


18F is a tech unit in GSA focused on helping agencies create better citizen experiences.

Started in March 2014 by Presidential Innovation Fellows, 18F became part of the new Technology Transformation Service in GSA in 2016.

Similar to USDS, 18F hires talented technologists, product managers, designers, and more.

Unlike USDS, 18F doesn’t use Congressionally appropriated funds. Other federal agencies pay 18F for their expertise and technical assistance — think of them like an internal consulting firm that helps federal agencies build, buy, and share digital services.

18F has been instrumental in helping Treasury implement the DATA Act to standardize federal spending and upgrade USASpending.gov, humanizing the citizenship process, and co-developing the U.S. web design standards. Check out how they work.

Apply to 18F to help transform how the federal government does technology.

Presidential Innovation Fellows

Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs) are accomplished entrepreneurs and technologists that serve inside federal agencies, paired with internal government innovators.

Started in 2012 by my old boss, US CTO Todd Park, the Presidential Innovation Fellow program has grown to include over 120 PIFs that have served. Here’s background on the founding and growth of the program.

According to Presidential Innovation Fellows website:

“The Presidential Innovation Fellows program brings the principles, values, and practices of the innovation economy into government through the most effective agents of change we know: our people.

This highly-competitive program pairs talented, diverse technologists and innovators with top civil-servants and change-makers working at the highest levels of the federal government to tackle some of our nation’s biggest challenges. These teams of entrepreneurs-in-residence and government experts take a user-centric approach to issues at the intersection of people, processes, products, and policy to achieve lasting impact at startup speed.”

Just minutes before he left office, President Obama’s last official act was signing the bipartisan Talent Act, codifying the Presidential Innovation Fellows into law. Check out the Wired magazine article “The Race to Pass Obama’s Last Law and Save Tech in DC”, that tells the dramatic story behind the bill signing.

As I noted on Government Matters, a number of PIFs have stuck around and served in senior government roles, including the current CTO of the VA Charles Worthington, and Chief Marketing Officer of the Census Bureau, Jeff Meisel.

From their website, potential projects for the Fall 2018 cohort of Fellows include:

  • “Helping the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs better support veterans transitioning from military to civilian life, adopt medical innovations to improve health outcomes, and reduce the processing time for benefits claims;
  • Developing customer experience mechanisms in data, tools, and technology to enable the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver the best experience to veterans, families, caregivers, and survivors;
  • Helping the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental bridge the gap between the Department of Defense and the tech community to access innovative and emerging technologies and solve critical national security challenges;
  • Working with the National Institutes of Health to better engage research participants and researchers for the All of Us Research Program;
  • Supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it re-envisions how it engages with its customers: America’s farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and private foresters;
  • Aiding the U.S. Department of State in leveraging its data as a strategic asset to better gather insights on mission needs, results, and risks;
  • Helping the U.S. Department of State better utilize data in its communications with foreign citizens to further our foreign policy objectives, bolster our nation’s reputation and trust and help State employees better connect with people around the world;”

Read more about the projects here.

The PIF program is recruiting for its next cohort — the deadline is July 6 at midnight. Apply at: https://apply.pif.gov/

That’s a wrap on week 1 of #CDF2018! Thanks to @NickSinai for spending the afternoon speaking with our 13 @uscensusbureau Fellows about open data, the future of #civictech, and everything in between. @CodingItForward

Coding It Forward

While it’s not a federal program, Coding It Forward is the newest member of the digital family.

Several of my Harvard students created a student club with an ethos of “A rebel alliance of people using technology for social good.” (I teach a class at Harvard where students learn user-centered design, product management, and how to hack the bureaucracy with empathy.)

The club quickly grew into a non-profit that works across dozens of universities to attract and place technical students into federal agencies for a paid Civic Digital Fellowship. Year one the program recruited 14 students for the Census Bureau.

Here’s a recent FedScoop article about what year two of Coding it Forward’s Civic Digital Fellowship looks like, with 36 students working across six federal agencies this summer.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of “people flow” strategies like Coding It Forward. I’m confident that some of them will get inspired to work in federal government when they graduate, and others will come back for a tour of duty later in their career.

Today is the Day

So today, on the fourth of July, let’s celebrate with hot dogs, fireworks, and parades.

As we celebrate our independence, let’s celebrate those who serve other Americans, in uniform, in the classroom, and in public service.

If you are in the tech sector, we need you! What are you waiting for?

Apply here:

And subscribe to Coding It Forward’s newsletter!

Senior Advisor at Insight Partners; Adjunct Faculty at Harvard; former US Deputy CTO at White House