3 things we learned from the USDS Medium interview


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It’s been a great summer for the U.S. Digital Service.

Over the past few weeks, the administration’s go-to tech team has unveiled a key project tied to immigration (which we have covered extensively) and was splashed across the pages of Fast Company magazine in a big June feature.

The press love continued this week when renowned tech journalist Steven Levy released an interview with USDS Administrator Mikey Dickerson and his deputy Haley Van Dyck. In the interview, Dickerson and Van Dyck give some insight into how USDS got to where it is as well as what the future may hold.

Here are three things we found particularly intriguing in Levy’s interview:

The Resumes Won’t Stop

Much has been written about former Chief Technology Officer Todd Park’s role in recruiting people from Silicon Valley to join the ranks of the USDS. His message seems to be working. Dickerson told Levy they have a team of between 50 and 60 people, with an application list “in the low thousands.” Dickerson told Levy he initially thought recruiting would be hard and hoped to land a few dozen people:

I was worried about getting enough people to come here and work, and also getting the agencies to accept outside help, because both of those things you can’t take for granted. We have not struggled with either of those things at all.

Good Luck Getting a Spot

That application list may continue to grow because staffers are staying beyond the length of their term. Dickerson tells the story of Will Chan, who finished his tour working on the immigration project but returned to D.C. when he felt unfulfiled by his Silicon Valley job. Van Dyck says it happens often at USDS:

People come here for short-term tours of duty, some just get a three-month sabbatical. And we saw about 66 percent of the people that came out for three months ended up going home, quitting their job and coming back full time. And it’s on the rise. I think it’s over 80 percent now.

Time is Ticking

Even with all the good work and goodwill directed toward their efforts, Dickerson and Van Dyck know that everything could come to an end once President Barack Obama leaves office. They are trying to make their work resonate to the point where it would be foolish for any incoming president to shut USDS down. Van Dyck says the group is “definitely feeling a sense of urgency”:

Our institutional innovation strategy is, if we can prove our value over the next 18 months, we believe it will be asinine for the next administration to not continue to invest in this resource.

Dickerson hopes the work is good enough to go beyond the need for USDS to get caught up in the bureaucratic process.

I would like us to not need policies or executive orders or things carved into stone tablets in order to force us to continue existing in the next administration. I would rather the next administration see the value for themselves and choose of their own volition to continue doing more or less what we’re doing right now. If we fail to demonstrate that value to them then as far as I’m concerned maybe we shouldn’t exist.

Head over to Medium’s Backchannel page to read the full interview.

-In this Story-

Government IT News, Haley Van Dyck, Mikey Dickerson, U.S. Digital Service, White House