When U.S. government sites don’t work the way they should, they aren’t just unhelpful—they also make the federal government look like it’s stuck in the 20th century.
On Monday, the White House announced a new organization designed to help spruce up government websites and (it hopes) prevent another HealthCare.gov debacle. Called the U.S. Digital Service, it will be tasked with modernizing the government’s digital presence and revamping how the feds provide information and online services in ways that compare favorably with Amazon or Facebook.
The White House has hired Mikey Dickerson, the former Google engineer largely credited with resolving the HealthCare.gov catastrophe, to head USDS. The small organization will serve as consultants for other federal agencies, aiming to help them improve everything from user interfaces to database integration.
The plan is mostly just to make everything work better, although the group would also be happy to prevent technological disasters before they occur. As federal CIO Steve VanRoekel has described it (as related by the Washington Post):
So the goal is to amplify the team’s influence by setting standards, introducing a culture of technological accountability, and figuring out “common technology patterns” that can be replicated across agencies, like single-sign-on for federal Web sites. “Build once, use often,” VanRoekel calls it.
In tandem with the launch, USDS is releasing a Digital Services Playbook that outlines basic best practices for government agency web maintenance including “use a modern technology stack” and “default to open [source].”
If the USDS is looking for someplace to start, here’s one suggestion:
— David Hamilton (@david_hamilton) May 15, 2014
Official White House photo by Pete Souza