Red tape holding back hiring at U.S. Digital Service

Deputy Federal CIO Mikey Dickerson says senior leaders need to get better about understanding technology to improve outcomes on large scale IT projects.

U.S. Digital Service's Mikey Dickerson, as shown in a White House video of his first day on the job.

Deputy Federal CIO Mikey Dickerson says IT contractors have advantages not enjoyed by his U.S. Digital Service.

Poor agency oversight and contract management factored into the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov last October, according to Mikey Dickerson, who was a leader on the team that rescued the ailing online service before joining the Office of Management and Budget as deputy federal CIO and head of the U.S. Digital Service.

Speaking at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va., on Oct. 27, Dickerson said senior leaders need to get better about understanding technology if they hope to improve outcomes on large scale IT projects.

"We're never going to be able to design a process that gives good results if people making decisions don't understand what they're buying," Dickerson said.

Dickerson, a scruffy, 35-year-old Google veteran is a bit of an odd duck among the buttoned-down federal IT community. The arrival of the U.S. Digital Service and its companion group, 18F at the General Services Administration, has some in the contracting community nervous about the extent to which the federal government plans to centralize and control development of web services. Dickerson tried to put the crowd at ease on a few points, noting that if his office gets its funding request of about $20 million, that's still just an infinitesimal fraction of the annual $80 billion federal IT spend.

"There's no chance of us taking all that on," Dickerson said. The U.S. Digital Service will be successful if it enables "the existing establishment to do better work in the context they're probably used to." Dickerson said the mission of the U.S. Digital Service is "to enable, to facilitate, to help, to coordinate with agencies as it relates to citizen-facing services."

"There's good reasons why most of this work should probably always be done in the private sector. Private sector companies have the freedom and a certain amount of flexibility to create a work environment which should be more attractive to top technical talent," Dickerson said. Addressing contractors directly, Dickerson said, "You have advantages that I don't. You can pay people more than GS-15 step 10, you can set up offices the way you want to do it. ... You don't have to go through the same hiring processes. There are a lot of reasons why you ought to be able to outcompete."

Dickerson faces headwinds in standing up the U.S. Digital Service. For starters, he said, 750 people have expressed interest in joining the service. "Our bottleneck is processing them. It's not budget, it's not demand. The bottleneck right now is processing hiring paperwork."

But the experience of attracting his fellow techies to government services has defied expectations, he said. "People are very interested in the kind of missions that only the government has," he said. "If the government doesn’t make HealthCare.gov work, nobody else is going to do it. ... There's tons of other things that if the government doesn't do them, nobody will."

Dickerson also noted that many of the large tech companies with tens of thousand of employees have many of the same structural problems as the federal government. "Government does not have a monopoly on slow, bureaucratic decision making," he said.

The U.S. Digital Service is working to replicate itself across government. The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the process of establishing its own internal digital service, and other agencies are expected to follow suit.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.