Mohana Ravindranath | Nextgov | June 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

If Elected, Clinton Wants to Keep USDS and 18F

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Chuck Burton/AP

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee wants to continue recent federal tech initiatives if elected, the candidate’s campaign announced Tuesday.

In text detailing her “Technology & Innovation” agenda, Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced she wants to make the newer tech groups founded during President Barack Obama’s tenure -- including the U.S. Digital Service and 18F -- a permanent part of the executive branch.

Washington should have a “constant flow of technology and design experts” whose job is to improve the citizen experience, including the processes for getting health insurance, applying for student loans and searching for veterans benefits, her campaign wrote.

That job might involve a “Yelp for government” citizens could use to rate public services, the agenda said. (The General Services Administration has already been working on partnerships with services including Yelp, Quora and SurveyMonkey, so other agencies can “claim” their own pages on these sites and monitor reviews.)

USDS, an IT troubleshooting team originated by some of the tech experts working to salvage HealthCare.gov, and GSA’s 18F, a tech consultancy guiding other agencies in efforts such as agile software development, have recently been the subject of congressional scrutiny.

A recent Government Accountability Office report concluded USDS doesn’t adequately document how it selects projects -- ostensibly the 10 highest-risk IT programs in government -- and that it occasionally leaves existing CIOs out of the decision-making process when working for other agencies.  

GAO also found 18F doesn’t have a clear plan for recovering its costs -- that group charges customer agencies a fee for its services, which is funneled into a revolving fund meant to sustain the team.

Clinton proposed expanding the digital services satellite groups that USDS has been standing up in various other federal agencies including the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, and, in the process, ensuring “CIOs are part of this innovation agenda.”

USDS would be tasked with working on the “top 25 federal government services that directly serve citizens.”

Clinton also plans to “maintain support” for these and other programs that recruit private sector techies for short-term rotations, such as the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, recently made permanent by an executive order, and the various “innovation labs” scattered throughout the government.

The agenda noted her plans to improve the process for buying federal IT, which can “take many months to make simple changes to a website or get a digital form approved.”

In addition to helping agencies “find, try, and buy innovative technology—including open source software,” Clinton plans to promote agile buying -- breaking large IT projects into smaller projects, “so it will be easier to stop projects that are over budget or failing” and so small and medium businesses could participate in them. (18F has been building a blanket purchase agreement that pre-vets companies skilled in agile development.)

Among many other tech goals including investing in the internet of things, Clinton’s agenda noted she plans to fully implement the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which would require agencies to publish and standardize their spending data by May 2017.

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