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What's in Store for Obama's New Digital Team?

Last week, the White House announced the establishment of a new U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a team of digital experts tasked with working with federal agencies to improve government digital efforts and service delivery. Led by Mikey Dickerson, a former Google employee who garnered attention after he fixed the rollout of healthcare.org, the USDS will help further the implementation of the White House’s 2012 Digital Government Strategy.

Designed to help the federal government operate more efficiently and provide better services for the American people, the Digital Government Strategy has served as the guiding vision for federal agency digital efforts over the past two years. Yet as Mr. Dickerson and his small team of 20-30 experts look to advance digital initiatives across the federal government, a number of challenges stand in the way of progress.

Last month, GBC released a survey to over 300 federal leaders to gauge their opinions on digital strategy progress. Beyond revealing that federal leaders grade their own agency digital efforts with an unexceptional C+ average, the survey also brought to light a wide range of digital execution issues affecting federal agencies:


While it may not come as a shock that feds view “limited budget” as the leading challenge to digital strategy efforts, it’s significant that around half of federal executives say their agency struggles with skills gaps, limitations of legacy systems, cultural resistance, or unclear long-term vision. While the new USDS may be able to more directly and easily address the first two of these concerns, it may be more disconcerting that agencies currently face internal resistance to adopting new types of service delivery. This latter point may be exacerbated by lack of endorsement from agency leaders: nearly one in three respondents to the GBC survey list “executive buy-in” as a challenge.

These internal disagreements can likely be correlated with the way in which federal agencies have prioritized and viewed digital strategy efforts thus far. For instance, when survey respondents were asked to rank which factors are driving digital government efforts in their agencies, “compliance with mandates” and “cost efficiency” come out as the top two drivers. In contrast, “improve collaboration” and “encourage innovation” are viewed as the least important.

As shown from these statistics, reframing how digital services are viewed within agencies can be just as important--if not more so--than the actual technological decisions digital leaders make for their organizations. Though the new U.S. Digital Service team will comprise of a wide range of skillsets, ranging from tech gurus to marketing/communications and user experience leads, it will be prudent for them not to discount the importance of how digital services are perceived within the agencies they seek to assist.

For more about GBC’s survey, Digital Government 2014: The Two-Year Progress Report, click here.

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