U.S. Digital Service to Congress: We’ve Made A Measurable Impact

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The government’s technology tiger team gives an update on what it accomplished in 2017 and the projects it has in process.

The U.S. Digital Service—a program-turned-office that helps agencies fix major digital problems—released its annual report to Congress Tuesday with a rundown of ongoing projects and a list of successes from 2017.

The service was created in 2014 in the wake of the catastrophic early failure of the Healthcare.gov Obamacare website and later established as part of the Office of Management and Budget. Since that time, the idea has expanded into other agencies, with Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department standing up their own teams.

“We made a measurable impact,” Matt Cutts, USDS acting administrator, said in the report. “From recovering failed systems to consolidating services and designing intuitive interfaces, we are building more secure, efficient and modern government services with and for the American people.”

The report cites 11 ongoing projects at six agencies, plus several governmentwide procurement initiatives:

  • Veterans Affairs: Simplifying veteran-facing services through Vets.gov and streamlining appeals processing.
  • General Services Administration: Improving government consumer identity with Login.gov.
  • Small Business Administration: Modernizing small business certification programs.
  • Homeland Security Department: Modernizing the immigration system and relaunching the Trusted Traveler programs.
  • Defense Department: The Hack the Pentagon bug bounty and helping military families move with Move.mil.
  • Health and Human Services: Implementing Medicare payment changes and modernizing health data access with APIs.
  • Procurement: Transforming federal IT with Digital IT Acquisition Training.

Cutts estimates these projects will save the government $617 million and 1,475 labor-years over the next five years.

“It is an honor to build products that directly improve the lives of millions of people,” he wrote. 

Natalie Moore, a product manager at the Veterans Affairs Digital Service who worked on a tool to help veterans who were discharged under non-standard circumstances, agrees with that sentiment. She joined USDS after serving a tour with the Peace Corps in Africa.

“I thought that experience living in a rural village doing work would be the most challenging mission-driven work that I would do. But I was lucky enough to find USDS,” she told Nextgov. “Government can be a really challenging environment, as well. But the mission is still really meaningful.”

Moore sees USDS and the individual agency shops as key to the digital future of the federal government.

“We’re at an interesting point now where we’re able to work on really amazing projects that help millions of people,” Moore said. “One of the things that we continue to look at is the number of people—the impact. We try to work on things that really end up impacting large amounts of people. I think staying true to that will be really important as we’re growing.”

Moore also cited the service’s other main values as key components of USDS’s mission and future: hire and empower great people; find the truth, tell the truth; optimize for results, not optics; go where the work is; design with users, not for them; and create momentum.

“I feel like, if we stay true to those values, five, 10 years down the road we should be in a good spot.”

  USDS - Report to Congress