Last fall, when the government stumbled launching the HealthCare.gov website last fall, Google engineer Mikey Dickerson stepped in to save the day.
Now, the White House is once again reaching out to Silicon Valley and carving out a permanent position for Dickerson, appointing him deputy chief information officer of the federal government and the administrator of the United States Digital Services Team.
Dickerson will helm a small team of digital experts aimed at repairing other government websites and computer systems, signaling a shift toward using technology to improve government efficiency. The goal is make these sites more accessible, user-friendly and as enjoyable as logging on to Facebook or Amazon, Dickerson told the New York Times.
Dickerson recalls walking into the storm that was the headquarters of of HealthCare.gov in Columbia, Md., in the winter of 2013.
“It was a very life-changing experience,” he says, adding his dismay over the lack of modern tools present to track data or better understand why the site was crashing.
“It’s easy just to order a bunch of machines and install them, and we’re doing all that stuff,” he says. “But you have to find exactly where is the choke point, and it’s a very compacted system.”
Dickerson likens his job to a traffic engineer, identifying where back-ups and bottlenecks exist. When the White House asked him to leave his job at Google for the new position, “there was really not any way I could say no to that,” he says.
In tandem with Dickerson’s hire, the White House also released a draft “playbook” to assist technology officers across federal agencies, using some of processes and tools enlisted in fixing the health care site last year.
The Digital Services Team plans to act as a sort of emergency responder to federal websites and systems temporarily stalled, but Dickerson also hopes to preemptively help agencies and anticipate potential problems on the horizon.
For now, the team will operate on a small scale, with only $3 million in the government’s technology budget. But the government has requested $13 million for next year and has plans to expand the team to as many as 25 people to help Dickerson revolutionize the next generation of government.
To us, that sounds like a goal that is certainly worth the cost.