Congress

U.S. Digital Service might get 10-year lease on life

US Digital Service logo

At least a few members of Congress want to make sure President Barack Obama's technology SWAT team, the U.S. Digital Service, will live on beyond his administration.

On May 27, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) introduced a bill that would authorize USDS for 10 years. Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) are co-sponsors of the measure.

"The U.S. Digital Service is working to identify, fix and prevent large-scale technology issues within government so that taxpayers can get the return on investment they deserve," DelBene said in a statement. "We have some of the most talented tech minds in the world willing to forgo more lucrative private-sector jobs because they want to improve our country -- we should not waste this opportunity."

Founded in August 2014, USDS is one of several digital services teams in government aimed at injecting innovative approaches, ideas and technologies into a variety of federal agencies.

USDS' operational cousin, the General Services Administration's 18F, was entrenched earlier this month as part of GSA's Technology Transformation Service.

Obama has stated his desire to institutionalize technological paratroopers such as USDS and normalize the techies-swoop-in-to-rescue-projects nature of their work.

In his fiscal 2016 budget request, Obama asked for $105 million to power a 500-strong expansion of USDS across government. Congress provided no such authorization, but the administration has found other ways to fund a significant ramp-up. Federal CIO Tony Scott has predicted USDS will outlast the Obama administration, but others aren't so sure.

"The things that they are doing certainly need to be done," technology policy expert Mike Hettinger said. But he added that there's no ironclad consensus that USDS is necessarily the best team for the work. There are still a lot of questions about whether USDS might be taking opportunities from companies and whether those companies could do the jobs for a lower cost, Hettinger told FCW.

And with so few legislative days left before the elections, the chances for passage -- especially for a bill with no Republican co-sponsors -- would appear slim. Hettinger said the sponsors would need to do some heavy skid-greasing work in the relevant committees to have a chance.

The bill has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Even if the bill goes through, money will remain an issue.

"That's the real question," Hettinger said. "If they keep it around at all, how are they going to fund it?"

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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