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Six Words of Advice for the U.S. Digital Service

Six words of advice for the U.S. Digital Service

As I mentioned, I was away last week. One of the announcements that came out: The release of the U.S. Digital Service and the Digital Service Playbook.

 U.S. Digital Services Playbook: The American people expect to interact with government through digital channels such as websites, email, and mobile applications. By building better digital services that meet the needs of the people that use our services, we can make the delivery of our policy and programs more effective. Today, too many of our digital services projects do not work well, are delivered late, or are over budget. To increase the success rate of these projects, the U.S. Government needs a new approach. We created a playbook of 13 key “plays” drawn from successful best practices from the private sector and government that, if followed together, will help government build effective digital services.

The White House also announced that it had hired Mikey Dickerson, a former Google Inc. employee who repaired HealthCare.gov after its botched launch, to identify and fix other troubled government computer systems.

The New York Times scored the first interview with Dickerson this week:

Reprogramming government: A conversation with Mikey Dickerson. President Barack Obama last week hired Mikey Dickerson, a former Google Inc. employee who repaired HealthCare.gov after its botched launch, to identify and fix other troubled government computer systems. In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Dickerson said he wants to change the way that government interacts with technology contractors by breaking up huge projects into smaller pieces. “If you, a contractor, have to deliver some smaller thing in four to six weeks while the system is being constructed, you’ll act differently.”

The interview doesn’t go into much detail — that is not surprising. He hasn’t really had a chance to even get his feet wet, other than his experience with HealthCare.gov. My experience is that winning a campaign is the easy part. Governing is much more challenging.

That being said, the Digital Service Playbook has been getting good reviews.

Tech publisher O’Reilly Media posted: Not just the government’s playbook:

Whenever I hear someone say that “government should be run like a business,” my first reaction is “do you know how badly most businesses are run?” Seriously. I do not want my government to run like a business — whether it’s like the local restaurants that pop up and die like wildflowers, or megacorporations that sell broken products, whether financial, automotive, or otherwise.

It’s worth looking at the U.S. CIO’s Digital Services Playbook. It’s not ideal, and in many respects, its flaws reveal its origins. But it’s pretty good, and should certainly serve as a model, not just for the government, but for any organization, small or large, that is building an online presence.

And there is other good advice out there for Dickerson and the administration’s IT team:

GovLoop’s Steve Ressler: 7 Ideas for the U.S. Digital Service, of which, I will highlight number five:

Support the Ecosystem – As government thinks about improving digital services, there’s a whole ecosystem that can help make this happen. Here’s how I’d frame the ecosystem -government employees -civic hackers -government contractor services firms (small to large, strategy to custom development) -government software providers (small to large, on-premise to SaaS) Make sure you are supporting all levels of the ecosystem and encouraging the behaviors you desire. Every decision you make affects the ecosystem (for example, FedRamp is awesome but has a high time and financial cost to get paperwork to approved, making it tough for small software providers).

And Harvard Kennedy School Prof. Steve Kelman: Digital Service and agency IT: Advice for Mikey:

My advice to him would be to look for agency volunteers for his team’s help on projects before imposing himself — after all, agencies hire outsiders (consultants) all the time to help them, many should be happy to get help for free. Finally (I assume he has already thought of this), it’s much better to insert himself into a project at the beginning rather than when it is underway, or off track, when the “assistance” may well be resented. I believe we may be heading toward a tipping point for a major paradigm shift, after so many years, away from big-bang, waterfall IT development and towards a modular, agile approach. With the right mixture of enthusiasm and respectfulness, Mikey Dickerson and his team may be able to play a key role in that.

My advice: Focus on six words: Help government do its job better — I think I’ve used that somewhere before, but they are the mantra of GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER because I think it is that important. Beyond that, tap into the people who are invested in the notion that we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In the end, if this is going to matter — and still be around in two years — it simply has to enable to government to accomplish the mission more effectively. That can be doing more with less… or better, faster, cheaper…

Change is hard for any organization. It is particularly difficult in government, where risk offers little reward.

As a ‘glass half full’ guy, I’m happy to help however I can.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. Federal News Radio: Navy kicks out 34 for nuke cheating- “At least 34 sailors are being kicked out of the Navy for their roles in a cheating ring that operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site, and 10 others are under criminal investigation, the admiral in charge of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program told The Associated Press. The number of accused and the duration of cheating are greater than was known when the Navy announced in February that it had discovered cheating on qualification exams by an estimated 20 to 30 sailors seeking to be certified as instructors at the nuclear training unit at Charleston, South Carolina. Students there are trained in nuclear reactor operations to prepare for service on any of the Navy’s 83 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.”

  1. Federal Times: Postal Service workers’ comp costs rise as headcount falls- “Even as the Postal Service has cut hundreds of thousands of employees its workers’ compensation costs continue to grow, according to an Aug. 19 report by the Postal Service inspector general. The Postal Service paid $1.3 billion in workers’ compensation claims and another $67 million in administrative fees in fiscal 2013, according to the report. Despite cutting its workforce by more than 172,000 employees since 2008—from 663,000 then to 491,000 in 2013—workers’ compensation costs have grown 35 percent. The agency currently has about 16,380 workers expected to draw compensation for more than 60 days, according to the report.”

  1. Nextgov: The Battle Over Government Run Internet Heats Up at FCC- “If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to stop states from blocking city-run broadband, he’ll likely have to override Republican opposition to do it. In a speech Wednesday, a top Republican FCC aide argued that the agency lacks the authority to overturn state laws on the issue. More than 20 states, at the behest of cable and telecom industry lobbyists, have restricted the ability of cities to build their own broadband networks.”

  1. Government Executive: How Veterans’ Preference Laws Are Dragging Down Federal Hiring- “The federal government’s complicated and layered rules about hiring military veterans has created the perception of unfair and preferential treatment, which has in turn negatively impacted employee engagement, according to a new report. The “patchwork of laws” that governs veterans’ preference hiring — a concept that has existed in federal government for a century and a half — was created with good intentions but has become too complex, the Merit Systems Protection Board found in anextensive review of the various policies. MSPB polling of federal employees revealed that 4.5 percent of workers said an official in their agency knowingly violated veterans’ preference laws, and 6.5 percent “inappropriately favored a veteran.”

  1. Federal News Radio: DoD revisiting security guidelines for commercial cloud- “The Defense Information Systems Agency is undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the cybersecurity rules that guide its decisions about whether individual commercial cloud computing systems are safe enough for Defense data. DISA officials have concluded that the current process perhaps is too stringent and definitely is too slow. The “scrub,” as DISA officials are calling it, is a reexamination of a set of cloud security review criteria the agency first put in place last December as part of its role as the Defense Department’s exclusive broker for buying commercial cloud solutions.”

  1. Federal Times: Army ramping up renewable energy program- “The Army is pushing to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals, forming a permanent office to help identify, award and complete renewable energy projects across the country. Starting Oct. 1 the Energy Initiatives Task Force formed in 2011 will become the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives, tasked with helping the service reach its goal of 1 gigawatt of renewable energy generation by 2025, enough to power the city of Orlando.”

  1. Nextgov: Navy Drops $2.5 Billion in Contracts to Update Shipboard Networks- “The Navy today awarded five companies eight-year contracts valued at $2.5 billion to install standardized shipboard networks. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command tapped BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, General Dynamics C4 Systems, Global Technical Systems, Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. and Serco, Inc. for the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts for the Navy’s Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services. The CANES program is intended to equip every ship in the fleet with a standards-based network.”

DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder… yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too…

  • Preparing Your Students for the Challenges of Tomorrow [Edutopia]: six tips to guide you in preparing your students for what they’re likely to face in the years and decades to come. 1. Teach Collaboration as a Value and Skill Set; 2. Evaluate Information Accuracy; 3. Teach Tolerance; 4. Help Students Learn Through Their Strengths; 5. Use Learning Beyond the Classroom; 6. Teach Students to Use Their Brain Owner’s Manual

  • How to hire good people instead of nice people [Quartz] Usually, employers rapidly scan the resume of each job applicant looking for relevant education, skills, and work experience. They select 10 candidates for telephone calls, invite three in for interviews, and hire the one they like the best. This is a bad way to hire because at best it gets you nice people. You don’t need nice people. You need good people. Good and nice are not the same thing. The opposite of good is bad. The opposite of nice is unlikeable.

  • Scientists Want You to Help Crowdsource Night Lights [NBC News] NASA has amassed more than 1.3 million pictures of Earth as seen from the International Space Station, and about a third of them were taken at night. The space agency says those photos are the highest-resolution nighttime pictures available from orbit, but their usefulness is limited because it’s not always clear exactly what the pictures are showing. That’s where you can help.

  • Developing talent for large IT projects [McKinsey Quarterly] Good program managers are hard to find. Here’s how organizations can attract and develop their own senior IT program-management talent.

  • The most popular #IceBucketChallenge videos

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