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An Interview with Matt Cutts: Can the Government grow a Money Mustache?

One day last week, the icy grip of a winter storm broke and the skies of Colorado returned to their normal state of deep blue with bright sunshine. So I decided to head out for a hike on the warm red rock trails just outside of Boulder.

Taking a break on a big rock at the summit of the mountain, I pulled out a snack and a tiny glass-encased computer from my backpack. I unlocked it with my fingerprint and casually learned a few things, shared a few ideas, and conducted a few thousand dollars of business before the bag of carrots was done, then snapped a twelve-megapixel image or two before pressing the lock button and tossing the phone back into my pocket.

I took a brief moment to marvel at the efficiency of this whole situation, and how much wealth it brings to people like you and me who are privileged and clever enough to get set it up in our lives.

Efficiency reduces waste and multiplies your productivity, and even a small helping of it is enough to tilt you into a lifetime of financial surplus. Yet it is so rare that most people in the richest countries spend most of their lives in debt.

This contrast was illustrated dramatically as I descended from that Millionaire’s Rock and returned to reality. I needed to renew my driver’s license, so I stopped at the Department of Motor Vehicles only to find a two-hour lineup of people, waiting to speak to an understaffed roster of tired employees, manually entering information that was already duplicated on countless other government servers, into their own antique computers. And this was obviously not a new problem: I could see signs that a construction project was underway – the waiting room was being doubled in size to allow more people to sit and wait.

THIS”, I thought, “is why so many people hate the government. Here we are spending taxpayer money on more drywall and willingly wasting my time, instead of figuring out the root of the problem, which is that I should have been able to renew my driver’s license with a smartphone app, at least any time after the year 2010.”

And I have similar stories about paying my city utility bills, applying for building permits, handling payroll taxes, and legally immigrating to this country in the first place. We need these public services, but we’d all be much wealthier if they worked more efficiently.

Why does this happen? Why is almost everything from Silicon Valley shiny and efficient, and almost everything from Washington DC (or the local government office) crusty and outdated?

In a word: Humans. When we work in big groups, we grow less efficient. When our groups have been around too long, we get even worse. When the management structure is too messed up, nobody is willing to take risks.
And most importantly of all, the most effective workers know all of this, so they avoid seeking jobs where they’ll be stuck in a crusty work environment.

In other words, truly talented tech workers rarely apply for government work, reinforcing a circle of inefficient services for citizens, and a low public opinion of government efficiency. Is there a way to fix this?

Enter Matt Cutts and the US Digital Service

Matt Cutts arrives in central DC, after a midwinter morning’s bike commute to work.

Luckily, this self-reinforcing problem was not lost on the world, and some people have been trying to crack it.

Imagine, for example, if we could take one of the core developers of the Google search engine (one of the most efficient pieces of software in the world’s history), and get him to leave the lucrative tech industry to help the ailing public sector?

Matt Cutts is famous enough in the software world that he has his own family of followers known as ‘cutlets’. The Wall Street Journal stated in 2009 that ‘Cutts is to search results as Alan Greenspan is to interest rates’. And some of his efforts leading the Webspam and SafeSearch teams are the reason you can get useful Google search results instead of the monetized junk that is always trying to game the system and collect your clicks.

Then, imagine you could pull in a bunch of other top-tier developers and designers, empower them in Washington, and put them to work solving some of the nastiest efficiency problems?

It would be a tough job, but it would also be some of the biggest bang for the buck you could ever achieve, because all the fruit is juicy and hanging very low from the trees.

In Silicon Valley, you might compete to shave a dollar off the cost of app-powered flower delivery for a few thousand high-income families. In the federal government, you can change the lives of hundreds of millions of people whose lives are affected by government services.

Veterans applying for medical help, people applying for visas, businesses trying to win contracts or comply with regulations. Doctors trying to finish Medicare paperwork so they can spend more time with patients. And the Department of Defense gaining better security, to avoid having their information (or their nuclear launch codes) pickpocketed by hackers from more nimble organizations.

So, this has actually started happening.

In 2014, a critical mass of tech-savvy people in the White House were able to form something called the US Digital Service and begin looking for talent. They began to form a nimble start-up company within the government, with more autonomy and less bureaucracy holding it back.

In 2016, they found a willing recruit in Matt Cutts, which is around the same time I met him*

After kicking around the idea for a few years as I watched some of the progress via his Twitter account, we finally decided to do this interview. So let’s get into it!

Matt Cutts and the US Digital Service

MMM: How did the idea of the US Digital Service get started? Was it directly from Obama’s staff contacting you, or someone from the tech industry looking East?

MC: The US Digital Service got its start from a pretty big disaster: when the healthcare.gov website failed back in 2013. Regardless of whether you’re conservative or liberal, it’s pretty wild to see a signature presidential initiative at risk because the enrollment website didn’t work well. Todd Park, who was the CTO of America — how cool of a job title is that — recruited a small cadre of tech folks to help the website hobble over the finish line. Within a few months after that success, the government stood up the Digital Service to help on other technology projects throughout the government.

MMM: When I hear the word “Digital Service”, it has some echoes of both Secret Service and the military, like you sign up to be one of The Troops. Do you see parallels (and major differences) between enlisting for military?

MC: Absolutely. One parallel is the Digital Service asks people for a limited tour of duty. Most people end up staying for over a year but less than two years. We also try to set the expectation that like all jobs, some days are harder than others and can be really challenging. The idea is that we promise to find high-impact projects that will benefit others when you bring your expertise to government.

That can mean working in stressful situations where things aren’t going well. Your readers know how important it is to stretch ourselves to learn in new situations though, and how meaningful it can be to align our mission in life with our beliefs**. And of course, one huge difference is that no one in the Digital Service is put in harm’s way like the military or Secret Service.

So the work is demanding, but it’s nowhere near as hard as the military. We’re still sitting indoors while talking to people or tapping on keyboards.

MMM: How do the pay, benefits and work environment compare between USDS and private industry? What about living expenses in the area. Any perks or career advantages you perceive to working there?

MC: It’s a misconception that you have to take a huge pay cut. USDS can pay up to the maximum government “General Schedule” salary, depending on previous experience and salary. That can mean around $160,000/year. We ask people to move to Washington, DC, which is an expensive place to live, but it also has great public transit. You really don’t need a car in DC and it’s possible to live close to where you work.

I usually ride my bike to work and get a free workout each day. I will note that when working for government, you don’t always get to use all the latest cloud-based productivity tools that you can access in a startup, but that depends on which agency you’re working with.

MMM: What major things has the Digital Service accomplished so far? Do you have an estimate for how many people are affected and how many dollars (and hours) have been saved, versus the amount spent on the program?

MC: Oh man, I could talk about the work we’ve done for a long time. Sometimes it’s bringing time-tested industry best practices into the government. Take bug bounties, for example. The idea of offering money to researchers who find security holes has been used since 1995 on Netscape. But the Federal government had never done a bug bounty before. Our team at the Pentagon has run 7-8 bug bounties with great results: the government is more protected, and bug bounties can be cheaper than other ways of finding security holes.

Here are a few additional accomplishments:

These are just a few projects we’ve done. If you want more nitty gritty details, check out our multiple reports to Congress. Or if anyone wants to apply to the US Digital Service, we’d be more than happy to talk about projects in more depth.

With a modest budget, we’ve helped tens of millions of people across the US. A pretty conservative estimate is hundreds of millions of dollars saved. Plenty of labor hours have been saved, too. When a computer can check that all the documents for an application are attached and complete, for example, that saves manual checking, not to mention time (and postage) mailing paper back and forth.

MMM: When working on complex software projects in a big company, I found the hardest part was often the beginning – after you have a foundation you can work off the same pattern, your reputation grows and your progress grows exponentially. Do you see this happening in your work so far?

MC: It really varies based on the situation. When there’s a crisis, we can move quickly. Other times, an agency does need to see that you’re committed over time. Lots of people in the government show up promising to help and then don’t deliver. So we start off small, building trust and credibility.

One example was veterans’ disability claims. The people judging those claims had to download dozens of documents one at a time. So we built a “download all” button for them. It wasn’t hard technologically, but it solved an actual problem. It showed that we were listening to their issues and were serious about helping. From there, we were able to build up a relationship with partners and stakeholders. In fact, we just passed 100,000 Veterans whose appeals happened a little better or faster because of tools that we built.

MMM: From the outside, I have imagined that many of the government’s priorities turned over after the 2016 election – Have you noticed a change from the inside, or do you feel your work remains prioritized and valued?

MC: Practically everybody agrees that we need government services to be more modern. Did you know that the government runs some technology systems that are over 50 years old? This still amazes me. Improving technology is one of the few ways where a service can get better and still cost less. Our work is nonpartisan, and we still get to work on important projects that matter to the public.

Earlier this week I got to have breakfast with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and it’s remarkable how much common ground there is on improving technology so the government works better for people.

MMM: There’s another group called Code for America that has a similar-sounding mission to the layperson. Could you explain the difference between CfA and USDS?

MC: Code for America is a great group of folks! They’re a non-profit that works primarily with state and local governments to improve their technology. The US Digital Service is a part of the Federal government, so we tackle programs at a national level. It turns out that the civic tech space is pretty small in some ways, so it’s still possible to get to know a lot of people who have an outsized impact on technology in government. Code for America is one of the organizations that got me interested in civic technology in the first place.

MMM: Has financial independence played a role in your willingness to do this job?

MC: No one needs to be financial independent to work for the USDS–we pay solid salaries–but my previous career as a software engineer did give me the freedom to work on what I want. But you’ve made the point over and over that financial independence doesn’t automatically mean that you stop working–it means that you work on what you want to work on. At the US Digital Service, I get to work with amazing people who are tackling projects that really matter.

MMM: Should readers of this interview apply to the USDS? If we wanted to filter to exactly the right candidates, how would we do it?

MC: Yes, they should apply! We’re always looking for mid-career software engineers, site reliability engineers, product managers, and designers–people who have accumulated some real-world experience and maybe a few scars. If you can stand up a major web service, for example, that’s a plus. We also look for folks with emotional intelligence and the ability to tell the truth in hard situations. You may need to sit down with a cabinet secretary and break the news that their new product isn’t ready to launch yet.

MMM: How else can they support you?

MC: If your readers are not ready to apply themselves, maybe they know a good software engineer and will encourage them to apply? Also feel free to share this interview with them or elsewhere on social media. :) It’s important to know that there’s a third path open to technologists now besides academia and industry. And it’s possible to find jobs that are meaningful even if they can also be hard. Keep looking until you find one that’s right for you. Lastly, you can follow USDS on Twitter and on Medium.

MMM: Thanks for your time Matt, and thanks for taking the time to help out in the world. This article is part of an ongoing series of “Interviews with Interesting Mustachians”, and there are quite a few in the queue for this year. To a prosperous 2018!

And if you have questions for Matt and the USDS team, feel free to write them up in the comments. I’ll invite them to participate in the discussion.

 

* I first heard about Matt when he sent me a random PayPal donation in 2015. It was a shock:in a long-ago article in the very early days of this blog, I had put a donation box in an article with a comment like “Hey, you can keep reading for free, but if you insist on sending me money, here’s the way to do it.” He shocked me by sending $100.00, so I looked up his biography and sent him a thank-you email. Later, he enticed me into attending an underground conference called “Foo Camp,” which involved spending a weekend camping out with 200 young Silicon Valley tech titans and giving impromptu talks to each other. I gave a talk on Mustachianism, and answered questions from a guy at dinner about index fund investing. Later, someone pointed out that it was sci-fi legend Hugh Howey, and both my son and I have since gone on to read most of his books.

** Matt and I did this interview by collaborating in a Google(of course) Doc, which means he was able to add his own links. So, all the links within are by him. I noticed that some of them, like this one, link to old MMM articles. I was impressed by his deep and historic knowledge of Mustachianism. ;-)

  • Mr. 1500 January 23, 2018, 10:39 am

    Whoah, I remember listening to Matt a long time ago on Leo Laporte podcasts. Nice to see he’s back to work putting his brain to use doing good.

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  • Jay Shaver January 23, 2018, 2:09 pm

    Transitioning out of the military in the next few months. Read this article during Day 1 of the transition course (actually typing this out while sitting in Day 2 of course) after spending the first half of the day working with the Vets.gov site. The entire class was stoked on the site–most of us are used to some pretty gnarly, outdated systems. All that to say, great to randomly read this half an hour visiting Vets.gov and learning that you and crew were responsible for it! Great job and thank you!

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  • Batwood January 23, 2018, 4:03 pm

    Hello Mr. MM and Mr. Cutts–
    Enjoyed the post immensely. Read a great article recently about the country of Estonia and the X-Road platform for streamlining government operations (enter data only once!). Now Finland has adopted X-Road.
    As I renewed my US passport recently, I was reminded of the 20th century, and maybe the 19th century, as there were forms, errands and postage (!) required for what would be a green-lighted renewal.
    Interestingly, Estonia is backing up its data in Luxembourg in case of physical or cyber invasion by Russia.
    Perhaps the model would work for the US federally, but def a model for US states individually. My state (Georgia) offers D-license renewals online and you can make timed appointments online if you have to go in the place. Steps in the right direction anyway–baby steps.

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  • FIRECracker January 23, 2018, 7:59 pm

    I’ve never worked a government job before but from what my friends and family tell me, the inefficiency comes from the fact that it’s almost impossible to get fired. Unlike working for the private sector, where you are always in competition with other companies, you don’t have to strive to be efficient or better because there’s no other entity to compete with you. That’s when laziness and complacency sets in. I have a friend who got bitched out by all her government co-workers for “working too hard and making them look bad”. Needless to say, she ditched that job and found one in the private sector where she got rewarded for her results.

    Good to know there are rewarding government jobs out there though.

    Thanks for the tips, Matt! I’ll see if my friends want to apply.

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  • Lucas January 24, 2018, 6:43 am

    You’re a hero to me Matt. At first, I couldn’t believe MMM got to interview you. Funnily enough, I’m starting to write my Master Thesis on the effectiveness of Black Hat Marketing next week.

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  • Kareninez January 24, 2018, 7:42 am

    Not to take away from the impressive achievements of Matt Cutts, but I am sorely dIsappointed at MMM’s simplistic assessment of why government doesn’t work like the private sector:
    “Humans. When we work in big groups, we grow less efficient. When our groups have been around too long, we get even worse. When the management structure is too messed up, nobody is willing to take risks. And most importantly of all, the most effective workers know all of this, so they avoid seeking jobs where they’ll be stuck in a crusty work environment.”

    The big difference is the different incentives and choice sets. The private sector has a strong profit motive to ensure that ATM machines are globally networked and able to access your checking balance back home whenever you want. Who is motivated to innovate new TB diagnostics when TB is a problem of poor people in poor countries?

    In the private sector, an individual manager can take personal initiative to hire her brightest friend to solve a problem. The laws and public opinion generally do not take kindly to such initiative in public procurements. In fact, such behavior is rewarded with loss of employment and jail time.

    If the difference in performance were simply “the humans”, you would not find government servants being courted away by the private sector and doubling to quadrupling their salaries, a common pattern.

    To find good solutions, we need to understand the underlying dynamics of the problem. Otherwise we will attract bright well-meaning people to the public sector who will not improve the underlying incentives and institutions. As Deming observed, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

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  • Jwheeland January 24, 2018, 8:59 am

    Thanks for sharing MMM and Matt. I like the idea of hearing about interesting Mustchains.

    Matt, really interesting stuff you and your team are doing. As a public servant myself, it is always a mix of emotions when commenting on the government and government workers.

    All I can say is thanks for your work and service. Public servants don’t get to hear it enough.

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  • Beckett26 January 24, 2018, 9:15 am

    I work for a small municipality and honestly we do everything we can to streamline things due to our limited staff to save time and energy and make information more readily available for the public. The problem we run into is we have a large retired population that is not interested in using technology so this of course can make things difficult.

    On another note here in NC you can renew your driver’s license online as long as you have no traffic tickets or are not past a certain age. I think this is awesome and did this last year for my renewal it sure beats wasting valuable time just sitting there when you could be doing something more productive.

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  • Accolay January 24, 2018, 2:48 pm

    This may have already been discussed, but I’d like to see the USDS tackle inventory/database issues the US government has, especially those of the military. I’m a military veteran, a former technician, and I know from first hand experience they don’t know what they have, or where it is. Perhaps there have been some systems put in place since I’ve left, but I kinda doubt the problem has been fixed. I know that these problems end up with a lot of waste.

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  • SMM January 24, 2018, 4:00 pm

    I’d say make everything as automated and online friendly as possible. This is already happening in local governments (e.g., reserving stuff at the library, reserving community parks for special events). I can renew my license online one time, but the next time I have to go to the MVA. It would be nice to go to any eye doctor perhaps and get a certification letter that can be uploaded and approved for a license renewal. Thanks for sharing on this exciting agency by the way!

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  • Bill January 24, 2018, 8:37 pm

    Actually, I have to disagree with the premise of the article on a few fronts. I’ve worked in private sector (15 years) and public sector (5 years) in the IT field in Colorado.

    1) The problem of government without complete end to end services online has nothing to do with untrained or backwards IT staff. Our IT staff often gets hired by the “big boys” (Cisco, VMWare, Microsoft, Pure, etc) because they are so good. The problem is with how decisions are made. Take Motor Vehicles for example. This one is largely controlled by the state although operated by the local counties. One you get through all the limitations of what the state will allow, you need to have someone in charge who is willing to invest in service/process improvement, instead of just more headcount. As demand spikes, the impulse is to add headcount, which will only get you so far and raises costs significantly. Demand for government services is at an all time high. IT sees many opportunities, but IT can’t just go build stuff, the business units need to decide they want to modernize and get involved in aggressively doing so, or it’s a total failure. Instead, in my experience, the organizations are often headed by people perpetually X years from retirement who don’t want to rock the boat.

    2) TABOR laws really jacked this up and make it very difficult to have the money to innovate. For example, in the last downturn, budgets for municipalities and local government plummeted due a drop in tax revenue. Let’s say it dropped 15%. When the economy and demand for government services sprung back, TABOR limited the amount of increase allowed to 2%/yr. That means it takes 7.5 years to get the budget back to where it was before the downturn. This creates a bit of chaos and a budget that is now 7.5 years behind in its ability to spend on improvements. Most of the money just goes to maintaining basic services.

    3) The idea that the private sector is hugely efficient due to competition is a myth. I’ve seen far more scrapped million dollar projects in the private sector due to bad decisions, pet projects, egos, personality conflicts, etc, than in the public sector. Are there some private sector companies that are efficient? Absolutely, many of them. Are there governments that are efficient, absolutely, many of them. But there is rampant waste across business and public sector and while you may notice that your street was paved in consecutive years due a mistake you don’t tend to notice that staples.com was completely rebuilt in consecutive years due to a poor technology choice the first time.

    Having said all this. I agree that inefficient governments are frustrating, but I wouldn’t point the finger at IT, which I have found often has very talented staff and forward thinking management, I’d point it at those who make the decisions for each organization and their willingness to engage IT in projects to improve their services.

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    • Jeff January 27, 2018, 3:14 am

      I agree with a lot of this, but asking the right people for help at the right moments, usually in the form of just a good word and nothing else, can go a long way. They don’t really have to commit, but by putting in a good word behind the scenes, they can make it easier to work across groups (though still by no means simple). What most people do not know about government is that in some ways, it is run from the bottom up much more-so than top down.

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  • Chris January 26, 2018, 4:56 am

    Great article, love it! I know this will sound cynical, but I don’t think government will ever grow a ‘Stash. It just continues to get bigger and bigger, and most of our tax dollars are spent incredibly inefficiently. For those who think our federal government should do more, I always pose a little test: “Name 5 things the government currently does well (meaning great results and cost-effectively)”. It’s very hard to come up with 5 things. MMM for President!

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  • Jeff January 27, 2018, 3:03 am

    Matt,

    I held an “important” position in government software architecture for twenty years before recently retiring in my forties. I found that it can take three years or more to socialize, untangle, and implement each organization-wide change. How are high-impact projects implemented at USDS in such a short tour of duty lasting two years or less? I have to say that I am skeptical, based on a lot of real world experience pushing such things through.

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  • Dan January 28, 2018, 11:14 pm

    I don’t see you hiring any superstars in tech for 160k in DC…

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  • Mike Shoup January 29, 2018, 7:03 am

    This is quite awesome, and I’m glad to read about how the federal government is working to modernize some of it’s technology. I really wish more local and state governments would do the same! It’s only been within the last few months that my city even started accepting electronic payments for water. I’ve been putting a check in an envelope and dropping it off at city hall for 5 years.

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  • Avi January 29, 2018, 9:31 am

    It’s a problem of intentions vs. incentives.

    As well-intentioned as programs like the US Digital Service are, they don’t solve the root cause of the problem. Programs like that are not new. There has been no lack of “efficiency drives” and gov IT projects in the past decades, but they almost always go over budget and underdeliver. Why? Because the US government has no INCENTIVE to be efficient. And not just the US government, but most governments on this planet.

    I have lived in many countries all over the world. The only country where I have ever witnessed efficient government is Switzerland. To illustrate a typical experience, when I went to change my driving licence I was attended immediately, in English(!), and with a smile. I received my new driving licence within 2 days. Not that Swiss authorities are particularly high tech. On the contrary, they still use paper for everything. But there is something about their MENTALITY that is very un-civil-servant like.

    So I asked myself, what is it about Swiss civil servants that makes them so different? The answer is hyper-local government. In Switzerland most taxes are collected and administered at a municipal and Cantonal level. Federal taxes are minor in comparison. Each town, even each village, sets its own income tax levels and provides most public services. To my knowledge, no other country in the world works like that.

    This system has some interesting effects: First, it creates competition between local governments. If a town over-charges on taxes and under-delivers on public services, people will vote with their feet and move to the neighboring town. Second, it gives government employees a sense of ownership. The civil servant who is attending you is not some faceless, anonymous bureaucrat. She probably grew up in the same town and is emotionally invested in the community’s well-being. She has skin in the game. Third, because the scale is so small there is little room for procedural cruft to build up.

    Of course, this kind of decentralized system creates other inefficiencies. Hyper local government can’t take advantage of economies of scale. There is a lot of duplication and even though gov services are high quality, they are expensive.

    I am not sure if this kind of model would be an answer for the US (I suspect it might lead to corruption), but one thing is certain: The incentive structure needs to change.

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  • veganomie January 30, 2018, 8:04 am

    Just curious if other Mustachians sell their plasma? I recently started doing it. You get more if you weigh more and for the first few donations, but after that, it’s $17 per donation, and you can donate twice a week. That’s $34 dollars a week if you’re under 150 pounds. I remember 10 years ago you got $15 dollars for your first donation of the week, then $20 for your second, but in 2018, they decreased their payouts to $17 per donation. I asked an employee if the lowered payments slowed traffic, but she said no.

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  • EDSMedS January 30, 2018, 12:16 pm

    As a government employee, this concept excites me! I didn’t hear enough conversation about 1) contract management or 2) business analysis / project management.

    1) I work for an Administration, so the bulk of our job is organizing others to legally and effectively use federal funding. We contract out most of that direct responsibility and ensure that our contractors comply with our requirements, but contracting is a swamp. So, PLEASE look at how better tech might improve that process!!!!!

    2) You describe your need for engineers on the project, but what about project managers and business analysts? I would think you would want skilled professionals to comprehensively evaluate the business streams to look for gaps, overlaps, and redundancies, and scan for existing solutions, vice creating new tech that is redundant or solves an obsolete problem. I imagine private industry has better tools / personnel for this, but it could be a great space to co-mingle private and government strategies to mix that kool-aid! I can’t wait to contribute to this and benefit from this!!!

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  • MissSaraBee January 31, 2018, 4:00 pm

    As an individual who has worked in municipal government, I understand the frustration with inefficiency, but I also understand why things are the way they are.

    For example, I had to use a program that was decades old to complete a rare type of analysis. The efficient person in me wondered why the municipality didn’t upgrade the software. The practical person in me understood why the entity didn’t want to spend money to update a rarely used piece of equipment, especially when it still worked just fine.

    But the real reason the program never got updated: there was no set chain of command for getting approvals. If you wanted something upgraded, you had to ask around to multiple people, who might send you back to people you already talked to. For some people, this can be frustrating and result in people just dealing with what they have.

    I think this is why the US Digital Service is working so well. It creates a set place for people to go to regarding technological questions and solutions. When you have a clear path for how to solve problems, it makes the entire process more efficient.

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  • Jwheeland February 1, 2018, 8:28 am

    First – From past MMM discussions, I know that there is a strong emphasis on supporting your propositions with facts and studies, instead of relying on anecdotes. Can some folks share some good studies re: pros and cons of how the government works and above discussions?

    Second, my anecdote as a government worker is that even when I see areas where we could improve we can’t because of a limited budget. For example, some of data systems can’t just get completly revamped because there isn’t a budget for the large capital expenditure, but there a budget to fix things as they break. So you get a lot of legacy systems. Ditto for hiring more staff.

    Also, it’s easy to lump everyone together, but remember public servants are everywhere and do some of the hardest, thankless work – cops, firefighters, va hospital staff, water department road ditch diggers, recreation center leaders and staff, social workers keeping children safe, public defenders, environmental protection staff, teachers, military personnel, etc. Not every government worker is the mythical, entrenched DMV bureaucrat.

    (Fun side note in thinking about private vs. public service is the scene from Gangs of New York where the fire department arrive and end up fighting each other instead of the fire presumably because only one department would get paid – https://youtu.be/y-vBJ8cS08U)

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  • Beth February 7, 2018, 9:25 am

    I know I’m late to this but hoping I can get a question answered. I’m surprised the interview didn’t touch on how the USDS identifies its projects and priorities.

    The interview mentions the low-hanging fruit of so many branches of government; given that there is so much outdated technology with the potential to impact hundreds of millions of people, how does USDS identify which projects it’s going to tackle first? Is there a formalized process of cost vs potential savings, an impact assessment, something else?

    Thanks for the great work, both of you!

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  • Bakari Kafele February 12, 2018, 10:17 am

    Wait a minute… you can’t renew your driver’s license or pay your utility bill online in CO!?

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  • Trip February 24, 2018, 9:44 am

    Thank you so much for educating me on the US Digital Service and Matt Cutts! It provides me hope that know that positive changes are happening within our federal government.

    I love the paragraph you placed in italics about the government’s wasteful ways in trying to tackle problems. Always go to root cause if we wish to fix it right.

    There’s also an amazing opportunity to reduce government waste by eliminating blame and the inherently polarizing two party system.

    And campaign finance….I’d love to hear what MMM thinks about campaign finance. Have you written a post on that topic before?

    Reply
  • Geof Harries March 21, 2018, 2:22 pm

    Just another “Hey, we’re doing stuff too” shout-out. Our tiny team of six people here in Yukon, Canada re-built the government website https://yukon.ca which is focused on citizens’ top tasks. We have also rolled out various online services at https://eservices.gov.yk.ca and https://beta.yukoncourts.ca with many more to come. Oh, and we’ve been openly documenting our process and knowledge gained at https://standard.beta.gov.yk.ca. We’re small, but we’re mighty!

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  • Karin June 17, 2018, 5:58 pm

    Most people I have spoken to on the subject thinks the legendary inefficiency of US bureaucracy comes from an expectation that government is not supposed to work well. When the credo of a country is private=good, government=bad, people just wont demand efficiency, as it would jar with their worldview. In northern europe, government is expected to function efficiently and thus it generally does so, as anything else would be unacceptable.

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