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Federal CTO Hopes Digital Teams Will Outlast Obama Administration

United States CTO Megan Smith

United States CTO Megan Smith // Flickr user Internet Education Foundation

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said her team is working to make sure new government tech teams -- such as the U.S. Digital Service and 18F -- withstand an administration change in 2016.

Her team hopes to “reach out to every campaign and make sure that everybody who’s running knows about the work we’re doing,” Smith said, adding, “we’ll understand from lawyers how we do that and what’s allowed, because we’re new around here.”

Addressing an audience at the Digital Beltway conference in Washington, D.C., Smith talked about federal efforts to attract more private sector technologists into the federal government. Smith was named CTO in September, joining the White House from Google, where she was vice president of the company’s innovation lab, Google X.

In the past few years, Smith said, more senior tech experts have been joining the government, including high-level executives from Amazon. The federal government is trying to see if it can “bring that level of quality that [Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos] and the team at Amazon” have -- a customer-focused approach to design -- to “something you would make for the IRS," for instance.

Entities such as USDS and the General Services Administration’s 18F are designed to let technologists see how their expertise can be applied to the public sector. It’s common for people in other professions to work for the public sector briefly, she explained -- doctors often do fellowships at the National Institutes for Health or the Centers for Disease Control, for instance.

“We can’t pay the same salary as, say, a venture-backed company . . . [but technologists can be] thinking about it as a rotation, like military service or judicial court clerking, or the science fellows,” Smith said.

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