The United States Digital Service was set up by President Obama to streamline digital services across government agencies following the failure to build a successful healthcare website.
“What we realized was that we could potentially build a SWAT team, a world-class technology office inside of the government that was helping agencies”, Obama said, and he has often proudly boasted of a unit that is closely associated with him.
But with Trump as President-Elect, what will happen to the USDS? David Eaves, Lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, has blogged about his thoughts.
“The first risk is that the progress made to date will get blown up. That anything attributed to the previous administration will be deemed bad and have to go.”, he writes in a Medium post.
Eaves has since reached out to his Republican colleagues, and gathered that “the most plausible scenario is nothing happens”, because “tech policy sits pretty low on the priority list”. It will take “likely a year while the administration figures out what is next”, he notes.
Secondly, he fears that the digital service may suffer from a talent brain drain. “Uncertainty about what will happen to USDS and 18F could lead to a loss of the extraordinary talent that make the organizations so important”, he says. “Each employee must decide for themselves what they will do next.”
Eaves recognises that “the divisive nature of the campaign has created real wounds for some people”, yet, there is “the need to push governments to focus on” user needs. “There are public servants who did not vote Republican who are returning to their jobs to serve the best they can.”
In times where division may loom, he suggests another model America can look to – the UK Government Digital Service. It was set up – like the USDS and 18F – to deliver better digital services for citizens, streamline processes, and cut cost; but it was forged by a partnership between Francis Maude, a Conservative Minister, and “a group of liberal technologists”.
“Democrats and Republicans may disagree over the size of government, but there is often less disagreement over whether a service should be effectively and efficiently delivered. Few in either party believe a veteran should confront a maze of forms or confusing webpages to receive a service”, he says. “And, the fact is, massive IT failures do not have a party preference.”
Other views have also started to emerge from US digital teams. Noah Kunin of America’s 18f has just blogged on “why I’ll stay.”
“Politicians may (and will) disagree passionately on what government should do. But they all say that for whatever the government does, we should do it well,” he writes.
“My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Pahlka, Executive Director of Code for America, writes that “If you don’t like the outcome of the election (or if you do), this is a good time to remind yourself that politics isn’t government, and governing isn’t someone else’s problem. It’s ours.”