How the U.S. Digital Service Defines Success

Mikey Dickerson’s measure of success is simple.

If the disability claims backlog isn’t a backlog, if open enrollment on goes well, and there are more immigration services online in the next 529 days, then his team has done its job.

“By the fruits you will know this,” Dickerson said Monday at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit.

As head of the nearly year-old U.S. Digital Service (USDS), Dickerson is part of a White House movement to bring in highly skilled designers, product managers and engineers to tackle the government’s high-profile tech challenges. Dickerson played a key role in breathing new life into, and the White House wants to replicate similar successes across departments.

Unlike the General Services Administration’s 18F, which also focuses on improving the government’s digital services, USDS is not reimbursed for its work. Dickerson said his team is currently recruiting and looking for employees interested in doing a detail from their sponsoring agencies or from the private sector. The hiring model is similar to that of the Peace Corps, and arrogant people need not apply.

“It doesn’t work to get people defensive,” Dickerson said. “They won’t share, they won’t be willing to cooperate, which is critical.”

This isn’t a model where USDS employees move everyone out of the way and try to do it all on their own. “We’re not big enough for that,” he added.

Dickerson recalled his first day on the job nearly a year ago. He was at a noon press conference. At the time he had been a government employee for all but three hours, and the questions began rolling in. Mainly, reporters wanted to know how the administration would institutionalize his organization.

Dickerson’s thought on that is if USDS delivers on its digital promises, then there’s a better chance it will withstand the transition into the next administration. He would rather USDS not exist in five years if it isn’t successful, then to have the organization become part of bureaucracy.

In addition to his track record as the fixer, Dickerson was also an engineering manager at Google before coming to government. The annual bonuses Google employees received were largely at management discretion and varied between people. One received $15,000 while another got $150,000.

“That is what you are competing against,” Dickerson told government attendees in the audience. But throwing bags of money at people was not a fulfilling life for Dickerson.

The fact that government employees are working on something they care about is important, he said. He encouraged govies to find the belief in what they’re doing. “Hold on to that as long as you can,” he said.

From July 20-21 we will be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Following along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

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