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White House Applies Lessons From Healthcare.gov

Posted by Dino Londis  |  August 18,2014  |  06:26 AM

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By Dino Londis (Invests.com) – Last Monday the Obama administration announced it is hiring Mikey Dickerson and a small team of experts to fix bottlenecks and improve the look and performance of the government’s consumer-facing technology. It’s also forming a new department that Dickerson will lead.

During the announcement, the Administration also released for public comment two crucial components in its IT toolkit – the Digital Service Playbook and the TechFAR Handbook.

The White House lured Dickerson away from Google to repair the healthcare.gov website after a troubled launch back in October 2013.

According to a blog post, chief officials were so impressed with Dickerson’s performance that they hired him on full time to head the new U.S. Digital Service (USDS) which will be under the Office of Management and Budget.

Dickerson will lead a small team of digital experts who will collaborate with other government agencies to make their websites more consumer friendly, to identify and fix problems, and to help upgrade the government’s technology infrastructure.

In a conference call, Federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel, cited the happy experiences people have on Facebook, Amazon or Expedia in the morning, then not have the same experience spending their afternoon on government websites.

Across town on Wednesday, speaking on a panel at the 2014 Federal Forum in in Washington, D.C., Commerce Department Deputy Chief Information Officer Kirit Amin said tech implementation in government a “three legged stool” of people, process and technology, where tech is the easiest to implement because the private sector has already developed workable solutions.

The formalization of the department has been expected for months. In testimony before the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee in May, VanRoekel called for a “centralized, world-class capability…made up of our country’s brightest digital talent,” forming a team to be “charged with removing barriers to exceptional Government service delivery and remaking the digital experiences that citizens and businesses have with their Government.”

Dickerson will bring to government websites what is commonly expected in the private sector, like single sign-on for all federal websites.

The budget for the USDS is expected to modest for 2014/2015 will be enough to bring on about 25 people for short, two-to-four year rotations.

As noted above, the administration also introduced its Digital Service Playbook and the TechFAR Handbook.

The Digital Services Playbook outlines current best practices in the creation and delivery of web-based services. The program is broken down into 13 “plays” such as, “Understanding What People Need,” and “Make it Simple and Intuitive.” Each play is then broken down into a series of checklists and key questions.

The Technical Federal Acquisitions Regulation (TechFar) Handbook is a guide to help agencies implement plays from the Digital Services Playbook with a particular focus on how to use contractors to support an iterative, customer-driven software development process, as is routinely done in the private sector.

Dickerson’s next step is to hire his team.

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