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How the CFPB Stole Talent from Silicon Valley

Image via Andy Z/
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently celebrated its first birthday. Birthed out of a tumultuous financial crisis, the young agency has been forced to rapidly scale and innovate. At Excellence in Government Live on Sept. 6, Dave Uejio, Lead for Talent Acquisition at CFPB, described the agency's philosophy of lean innovation--or what he termed "agile development"--and how this strategy was used to attract top designers and developers. 

Tasked with educating consumers about how to protect themselves against abusive financial practices, CFPB needed cutting edge digital outreach--putting the agency in the position of trying to recruit from the same talent pool as Silicon Valley. They'd need a unique recruitment strategy. That's where agile development came in.

Often, "strategy" occurs when a small, homogenous team gets together over several months, if not years, to develop a plan. This plan leads to several meetings which give way to an operations plan. That plan in turn leads to additional meetings that eventually involve human capital and then IT. A long and laborious process characterized by lots of meetings and little buy-in from key stakeholders.

A Different Approach

"Agile development is a little bit different, let's face it, it's radically different," said Uejio. "The notion in agile development is to have strategy, operations and technology--equally important--all at the table in the very beginning to create something called 'minimum viable product.' Something that's not [quite] perfect…and released over the course of four to six weeks."

In essence, the idea is to create new versions of products quickly and, if your'e going to fail, fail quickly and learn from those mistakes.

"If you implement something viable, get it to your customers and then have them tell you what they really think about it you're able to improve things much more rapidly through incremental change," said Uejio.

Intense, Upfront Collaboration

Bringing together the CIO, Chief of Strategy, human capital team and a group of designers and developers, the CFPB used agile development to implement a unique, and highly creative, recruitment strategy. They put out a call to designers and developers from around the country, flew them to Washington and introduced them to the agency's culture and mission. Then, they sent everyone home with a simple mission--create cool new products. The result was

"It was an intense collaboration involving senior leadership on the front end," said Uejio. "What it wasn't was everybody. A lot of people in government hear collaboration and think consensus. Consensus should be avoided like the plague, at least in initial development. Nothing slows down agile development like consensus."

The strategy, said Uejio, boiled down to this: Get all the right people in the room and none of the wrong. 

(Image via Andy Z/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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