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Delivering a customer-focused government through smarter IT

Aug. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By BETH COBERT, STEVE VANROEKEL and TODD PARK   |   Comments
Beth Cobert is deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. (File)

Editor’s Note: This post was first published at WhiteHouse.gov.

As technology changes, government must change with it to address new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. This Administration has made important strides in modernizing government so that it serves its constituents more effectively and efficiently, but we know there is much more to do.

Last year, a group of digital and technology experts from the private sector helped us fix HealthCare.gov – a turnaround that enabled millions of Americans to sign up for quality health insurance. This effort also reminded us why the President’s commitment to bringing more of the nation’s top information technology (IT) talent into government is so critical to delivering the best possible results for our customers – the American people.

A core part of the President’s Management Agenda is improving the value we deliver to citizens through Federal IT. That’s why, today, the Administration is formally launching the U.S. Digital Service. The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country’s brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.

We are excited that Mikey Dickerson will serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service and Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer. Mikey was part of the team that helped fix HealthCare.gov last fall and will lead the Digital Service team on efforts to apply technology in smarter, more effective ways that improve the delivery of federal services, information, and benefits.

The Digital Service will work to find solutions to management challenges that can prevent progress in IT delivery. To do this, we will build a team of more than just a group of tech experts – Digital Service hires will have talent and expertise in a variety of disciplines, including procurement, human resources, and finance. The Digital Service team will take private and public-sector best practices and help scale them across agencies – always with a focus on the customer experience in mind. We will pilot the Digital Service with existing funds in 2014, and would scale in 2015 as outlined in the President's FY 2015 Budget.

The Digital Service will also collaborate closely with 18F, an exciting new unit of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). GSA’s 18F houses a growing group of talented developers and digital professionals who are designing and building the actual digital platforms and providing services across the government.

With today’s announcement, the Administration is also releasing for public comment two crucial components in our growing IT toolkit that will help enable agencies to do their best work – the Digital Services Playbook and the TechFAR Handbook.

Leveraging Best Practices with the Digital Services Playbook

To help the Digital Service achieve its mission, today the Administration is releasing the initial version of a Digital Services Playbook that lays out best practices for building effective digital services like web and mobile applications and will serve as a guide for agencies across government. To increase the success of government digital service projects, this playbook outlines 13 key “plays” drawn from private and public-sector best practices that, if followed together, will help federal agencies deliver services that work well for users and require less time and money to develop and operate.

The technologies used to create digital services are changing rapidly. The Playbook is designed to encourage the government to adopt the best of these advances into our own work. To further strengthen this important tool, we encourage folks across the public and private sectors to provide feedback on the Playbook, so we can strengthen this important tool.

Using Agile Processes to Procure Digital Services with the TechFAR Handbook

To ensure government has the right tech tools to do its job, the Administration is also today launching the TechFAR Handbook, a guide that explains how agencies can execute key plays in the Playbook in ways consistent with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which governs how the government must buy services from the private sector.

Too often, the lack of guidance encouraging agency use of innovative contracting practices results in narrow and overly rigid interpretations of federal acquisition rules that complicate the government’s ability to adopt smarter ways of acquiring high-quality digital services. This document will guide agencies in how to procure development services in new ways that more closely match the modern software development techniques used in the private sector.

The TechFAR explicitly encourages the use of “agile” development -- an incremental, fast-paced style of software development that reduces the risk of failure by getting working software into users’ hands quickly, and by providing frequent opportunities for delivery team members to adjust requirements and development plans based on watching people use prototypes and real software. Following this methodology is a proven best practice for building digital services, and will increase government’s ability to build services that effectively meet user needs.

Together, the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, the Digital Services Playbook, and TechFAR Handbook will help advance the Smarter IT Delivery agenda in major ways – helping government deliver continually better services at lower cost, as our customers should expect and deserve. And as technology continues to evolve, we will continue to look for ways we can strengthen our efforts along with it – to make sure we’re applying new and innovative tools as we continue working to expand opportunity for the American people.

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