Plus, one of President Biden’s early executive orders calls for establishing an equitable data working group, the WhiteHouse.Gov analytics site gets an update for the first time in years, and more.
When President Joe Biden assumed the presidency this week, the transition of power brought an updated White House website, and in the code of that website was a hidden message, reading “If you’re reading this, we need your help building back better.”
It’s a fun easter egg that hints at an immediate shift in the federal approach to tech work: There seems to be a concentrated push to actively expand, doing so via hiring. The tech opportunities are especially prevalent for those interested in working with and helping governmental digitization through the two agencies that chiefly address that work: the United States Digital Service (USDS), as well as the federal tech digital services agency, 18F.
In addition to the hidden message, both of those agencies have been more direct about their goal to hire as well. On Inauguration Day, USDS tweeted, “We are a startup at the White House working to deliver better government services to the American people through technology and design.” There were not specific roles pointed to, but rather a general application that just asked interested parties to submit information about themselves and their interests. Meanwhile, 18F is specifically looking to hire product managers, and that group will, in fact, be hosting an info session Friday on the role they’re looking to fill.
Both agencies were established the last time Biden was serving the executive branch during the Obama administration, with USDS specifically launching in the wake of the lessons learned from Healthcare.gov. The agencies continued to operate under the Trump administration, with their work becoming a bit lower-profile amid the blitz of other daily headlines that persisted throughout the four years.
Early indications are that the job openings and message in the code have had an impact on the civic tech community. In fact, less than 48 hours after the message first appeared in the new website’s back end, USDS had posted this note, “The U.S. Digital Service is excited to report that we've recently received a large number of applications. We're reviewing them as quickly as we can, and will respond shortly. We thank you for your patience!”
The hiring push was not the only civic tech-adjacent action that occurred during Biden’s first hours in the White House; Biden also signed a flurry of executive orders, one of which called for the establishment of an equitable data working group.
This came within the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The section of that order calling for the new data working group notes, “Many Federal data sets are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status or other key demographic variables. This lack of data has cascading effects and impedes efforts to measure and advance equity. A first step to promoting equity in Government action is to gather the data necessary to inform that effort.”
Following the order, this new group will be known as the Interagency Working Group on Equitable Data. The federal government’s chief statistician and its chief technology officer will serve as co-chairs, leading the group. Other prominent members of the group will include the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the secretary of commerce through the U.S. Census Bureau, the chief information officer of the U.S. and the administrator of the USDS.
The two main functions of the working group will be to consult with agencies in the service of recommendations around data program inadequacies, as well as to support agencies in expanding data work with an eye toward equity.
As Biden assumed the presidency, WhiteHouse.gov analytics data also appeared to be updated for the first time since late 2017, according to a tweet from the digital analytics program manager for analytics.usa.gov.
And that analytics data showed that nearly 50,000 people were on the White House website during the inauguration. To put that in perspective, the day after that number had fallen to about 30,000 viewers at any given time throughout the day.
This speaks to a stated desire by the Biden administration to make transparency a core tenant of its work.
Finally, in a fun bit of civic tech goofiness that is also related to Inauguration Day, a new website allows users to put the Bernie Sanders chair meme anywhere via Google Maps Street View.
The map was built by Nick Sawhney, a Master’s student at New York University. It essentially takes the photo of Bernie Sanders sitting in a chair with big mittens on at the Inauguration, and it puts it in front of any address users type into the site.
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