I pledge my allegiance, to the flag…for which it stands…as a sequence of boolean bits.
It’s been two years since President Obama created the United States Digital Service (USDS), which lies as part of the Executive Office of the President to, “accelerate efforts to improve and simplify the digital experience between individuals, businesses, and the government.”
Or, as the White House Snapchat quipped, “it’s like the Peace Corps for nerds.”
After the Obama administration was heavily criticized for the launch of HealthCare.gov, President Obama poached a top Google employee to clean up the mess and was soon appointed as the administrator of the USDS. His new job meant he had to continue to clean up the government’s antiquated digital procedures and the USDS was coined as the “White House’s first tech startup.”
In the latest White House Impact Report, the press office says, “More than 170 engineers, designers, data scientists, and product managers have answered the President’s call and signed on for a tour of duty…to develop better digital services for the American people.” This included launching the Digital Services Playbook to continue to “help government build effective digital services” such as the build of a new, “one-stop shop digital experience for Veterans.”
1000s of pull requests
Countless awesome partners
3 favorite emoji ????
2 years of USDS: https://t.co/xsNavtmmXw
— U.S. Digital Service (@USDS) August 11, 2016
So you can say that the USDS is more than just a news tidbit about how the President looks cool bringing in Silicon Valley nerds into the White House and certainly more than some pretty great Snapchat story material. The list of digital improvements the group has made over the past two years is pretty impressive and it’s not surprising considering the giant roster of tech heavyweights who are involved. Even my SEO idol, Matt Cutts, talked about his digital call of duty and how he was inspired to join the Defense Digital Service, a piece of the larger USDS organization that works out of the Pentagon.
“An early effort discovered and fixed a problem where thousands of medical records for veterans were getting silently dropping on the floor if a doctor selected the wrong dropdown when scanning a document,” wrote Cutts in a Quora forum. “[The group] is also helping with part of the next-generation GPS system, and they’re working to replace atool called the Defense Travel System that the military uses for booking travel.”
What’s next on the list for USDS and its teams? They want folks to hack the Pentagon. Yes, you read that right. This past March the organization unveiled the first-ever federal bug bounty program.
“The $150,000 cost of the program is a mere drop in the bucket when weighed against the $6.7B budget at the [Department of Defense] for digital security,” wrote Christopher Lynch, Director of Defense Digital Service and a former serial entrepreneur in the tech space.
“I regularly get confused with the IT guy, an AV camera operator, or a vending machine supplier at the Pentagon because I wear a hoodie, and that’s okay,” wrote Lynch. “We exist to bring in new ideas and to challenge the way things have been done because some of our approaches to technology need rethinking.”
With the public eye watching closely after the failed healthcare website and the leaked documents from ex-CIA computer contractor Edward Snowden, these tech gurus certainly have a lot on their plates.
But when you think about the possibility of digital government that’s by the people, for the people? Well, we’re on board with that.