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Washington builds a pocket-sized digital service



Borrowing an idea from its British counterpart, the US government has set up a central team to improve digital public services. However the US Digital Digital Service, unveiled by President Barack Obama this month, will be less than one tenth the size of its UK counterpart, with a target headcount of 25 specialists.

The new agency, which will sit in the federal Office of Management and Budget, is to be headed by Mikey Dickerson, the former Google executive parachuted in to save the federal healthcre portal,, after its disastrous go-live last year. He will head a team charged with "removing barriers to exceptional government service delivery and remaking the digital experiences that citizens and businesses have with their government", according to federal CIO Steve VanRoekel.

According to a White House announcement, the team will:
- Establish standards to bring the government's digital services in line with the best private sector services
- Identify common technology patterns to enable services to be scaled effectively
- Collaborate with agencies to identify and address gaps in their capacity to design, develop, deploy and operate excellent citizen-facing services
- Provide accountability to ensure agencies see results

As with the UK Government Digital Service, much hope lies with "agile" processes replacing "narrow and overly rigid interpretations of federal acquisition rules".

Unlike its UK counterpart, Dickerson's team will not be building web services itself. Rather, the idea is to act as a management consultancy helping agencies think beyond their own boundaries and identifying common technology platforms, such as a single-sign on for federal websites.

The US Digital Services faces two big challenges. First, how to attract top-class digital talent from Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Second, the lack of time before Washington goes in to lock-down in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election.


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