Larry Press: Where USDS and 18F Come In

Written by Larry Press

The U.S. Digital Service (USDS) is an IT management firm that the White House just launched in hopes of bringing the U.S. government further into the tech age. commentary — The U.S. Digital Service (USDS) is an IT management firm that the White House just launched in hopes of bringing the U.S. government further into the tech age. USDS is headed by Mickey Dickerson, who helped to bail out the inherently flawed HealtherCare.Gov site. He also worked on President Barack Obama’s electorate campaign.

Young Techie Government

The USDS will provide consulting services for federal agencies in the IT sphere, but they don’t seem like your typical management consultants. Sticking with current tech trends, the USDS is made up of youthful entrepreneurs and technologists from Internet companies, e-government projects and, of course, startups. I’m betting none are Harvard MBAs. Stanford, though…maybe.

USDS has released a manifesto of sorts on their acting ideologies. They support open source, lean startup methods and agile development by small teams. Basically, t-shirt and flip-flops at work, which is highly reminiscent of the young people who helped the government develop the ARPAnet.

Here’s some “plays” from the USDS Playbook to give you an impression of its unique style:

USDS playbook

Image Credit: US Government

See more “plays” (and even comment on them) here.

The USDS offers suggestions that address problems with the federal procurement process that leads to IT failures like HealthCare.Gov. The TechFAR Handbook highlights the flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation that can help agencies implement “plays” from the Digital Services Playbook. These would be accomplished with acquisition support, and focus on how to use contractors to support an iterative, customer-driven software development process. This method is used often in the private sector, and its about time the government started employing it.

18F and USDS

USDS will complement 18F, a government agency that was formed last March. (Their office is at the corner of F and 18th in Washington). Both groups are largely staffed by former Presidential Innovation Fellows and they have a common point of view. Unlike USDS, 18F actually builds tools and implements government systems. I am sure they will work closely together.

President Roosevelt (radio) and Kennedy (TV) were leaders at using new communication media and President Obama was the first successful Internet campaigner. Now he hopes to modernize government IT — perhaps he’ll be remembered as the Internet President.

For, I’m Larry Press.

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here at He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s +Larry Press — or email him at