Everyone talks “innovation” but there are few who actually do it. Mikey Dickerson, founding administrator of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), is one such rarity.
In the office and out, Dickerson is as simple and pragmatic as his khaki pants and short-sleeved shirts. It was with this mindset he helped to reassemble the beleaguered federal health-care insurance platform HealthCare.gov in 2014, as well as rally a team of ex-Silicon Valley engineers to fundamentally reshape federal IT projects.
In his first year the ex-Googler jump-started efforts by drafting a playbook of 13 best practices for government project managers. Since then, agencies have embraced it, and the USDS has gone on to launch projects of its own, like data coordination for the 2015 U.S. Ebola response, creating a transparency platform for public record requests, and coordinating a revamp of a Veterans Affairs website and claims system.
In a blog post last year, Dickerson said USDS teams were responsible for the Veteran’s Employment Center. The three-month project delivered the site a year early, eliminated the need for three separate IT systems and saved $14 million in procurement costs — just one of many victories the USDS has achieved. Now Dickerson is working to establish teams in each federal agency to ensure the USDS continues beyond the current administration. His work provides a powerful example of what can be achieved when private-sector know-how is applied to government’s most vexing challenges.
“Our team already includes the lead developer on Google Chrome, the third engineer ever hired at Amazon and the former operations director at Twitter — all people who had likely never considered serving in government, until they were asked to,” Dickerson wrote. “And now they are applying their cutting-edge skills to fixing the very services that their friends, neighbors and so many others depend on.”
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.