Apr 13 2015

A Digital Service for California?

Accela CEO argues that California — and all states — can benefit from following Washington’s lead.

The White House is busy recruiting talent from Silicon Valley’s most recognizable technology companies to create the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), with the goal of reshaping how the federal government operates and delivers services to the nation’s citizens.

Maury Blackman, the CEO of Accela, a provider of cloud-based civic engagement solutions for government, argues on TechCrunch that it’s time for state governments, most notably California’s, to borrow that idea.

Blackman writes:

USDS staffers recently went to Eventbrite in San Francisco looking for tech superstars to help modernize our federal government agencies using the strike-force approach. This got me thinking: Maybe civic-minded technologists would also like an option to do something locally.


We need local versions of the USDS, as well. I imagine there are plenty of governments that could use a little help from a Facebook, Twitter or Google engineer to bring the user experience with government into the 21st century. And I imagine some of those civic-minded technologists in California would rather have a drive to Sacramento than a cross-country flight to D.C.

The USDS was born out of the healthcare.gov fiasco, in 2013, when the government’s website, set up to enroll citizens for healthcare as part of the Affordable Care Act, suffered major technical problems at its launch.

To fix that problem, Todd Park, federal CTO at the time, brought in an emergency team to whip it healthcare.gov into shape. The group then realized it could tackle other government problems as well, and the USDS was created, with Mikey Dickerson, a former site-reliability engineer for Google, taking the helm.

Dickerson, Park, who is now working for the White House recruiting talent, and others from the service have been recruiting like mad. “You can join for a week, a couple of months or the remainder of the administration,” Blackman writes. “Hiring is surprisingly painless and nimble, something that the federal government is not known for. I’ve heard the pitch. It’s inspiring.”

With no shortage of government problems to fix, Blackman wants to see states create similar services. Even California, as the home state of some of the nation’s brightest tech talent, struggles with tech in government: For example, California received an “F” for government spending transparency. The legislature also got a “D” from the Sunlight Foundation for the second consecutive year and as Blackman states, that is just the beginning.

There are much bigger government technology issues that a digital services agency in California could tackle. The always forward-leaning Governor Jerry Brown should take a page from Todd Park, the Silicon Valley-based adviser to the White House, and develop a version of the USDS for California. And other local governments should follow Washington’s lead and create their own digital services programs. It is something that every city, county and state government can and should do, and many already have taken a first step.


Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT