Feb 03 2015

President’s Budget Includes Funding for 500 Digital Experts

The budget requests $105 million to create digital service teams to work on high-priority projects at 25 agencies.

When President Barack Obama’s administration brought in former Google engineer Mikey Dickerson in August to head the newly created U.S. Digital Service, Dickerson had his doubts.

He wondered: Would agencies be receptive to changing their service delivery models? How would he recruit talented professionals to carry out that work? Would the world’s best technical talent even entertain the thought of working for the government?

Dickerson quickly found that not only were agencies clamoring to work with the U.S. Digital Service, but they were wanting to replicate its success by creating their own in-house technical teams.

“We built a very strong team, and demand is incredibly high,” Dickerson told reporters on a White House budget call Monday.

The president’s 2016 budget proposal includes $105 million to create digital service teams at all agencies that are subject to the Chief Financial Officers Act, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration and the Small Business Administration. The Defense Department is the only exception.

Budget Includes Funding for 500 Digital Experts

The funding would be used to hire 500 individuals across government, said acting federal CIO Lisa Schlosser. Agencies would have options for using current hiring processes and flexibilities to bring these professionals onboard, starting in fiscal 2016. Dickerson said that, like the U.S. Digital Service, agency teams would work on high-impact projects such as the VA’s student loans process and modernizing visa applications across the State Department.

Dickerson’s team would remain within the Office of Management and Budget and focus on issues such as agencies’ hiring authorities and removing barriers that hinder cross-governmental work.

Newly created teams would be embedded so they could better understand an agency’s unique challenges, Dickerson said. He stressed that the intent is not to hire thousands of people and insource work that is currently outsourced. Teams would remain small and help expand the work already underway at organizations such as the General Services Administration’s 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

Some agencies already have begun building their teams. At the VA, a team of three in-house digital service experts spent three months building the Veterans Employment Center, an online tool that connects veterans, transitioning service members and their spouses to employers. The project “delivered the functionality of three different planned IT systems one year early, and allowed the VA to cancel a planned $2.4 million procurement, eliminate another ongoing $9 million-per-year contract and save $3.3 million per year on a separate ongoing contract,” according to the president’s budget proposal.

U.S. Digital Service Recruits Former Google, Twitter Staffers

“Recruiting the best talent in the country was more successful than I expected it to be,” said Dickerson, who joined the budget call from California, where he’s recruiting IT talent for the government.

His team includes the lead developer for Google Chrome, the third engineer hired at Amazon and the former operations director at Twitter.

“These are not lightweights,” Dickerson said. “These are very well-established people in the field, who probably wouldn’t have considered government service until we came knocking and asked them to.”