Federal Digital Service Teams Expand Despite Uncertain Funding

Published: October 07, 2015


OMB requested that agencies establish digital service teams by October 1, 2015, as part of last December’s budget passback. Lack of funding has stalled many agencies’ progress, however others have pushed forward in establishing these teams and are reaping the benefits.

The budget passback required that agencies spend a percentage of their IT budget to fund their new digital services office. Percentages were said to be different for each agency based on the size of their overall IT budget.

The president’s FY 2016 budget request included $105 million to “incubate digital ser­vice teams within 25 major agencies across government.” However, appropriations committees have not approved this funding and have cut requested funding of $35 million for OMB’s IT Oversight and Reform Fund to $20 million for FY 2016.

But some agencies are pressing forward and establishing digital service teams despite budget uncertainty. DHS recently hired Eric Hysen director of its new digital services team. Previously, Hysen was working for the White House US Digital Service on a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) project to modernize the US immigration system. 

In 2014 prior to OMB’s mandate, VA established its own digital services team which spent three months building the Veterans Employment Center.  They delivered the func­tionality of three different planned IT systems one year early and allowed the VA to cancel a planned $2.4 million procurement. 

DOD has established its own version of the US Digital Service called Defense Digital Services. Founding of this group was spurred due to the benefits DOD gained by hiring GSA’s 18F organization which saved them more than $150 million in IT procurements. The Defense Digital Services office plans to hire up to 100 top designers, developers and engineers from government and Silicon Valley within a year.  The new development squad is meant to rapidly deliver new tools and practices that are reusable, cut costs and improve user experience.

According to White House Senior Adviser and former US CTO Todd Park, the federal government still plans to grow the US Digital Services and GSA 18F offices to 500 employees by the end of 2016 in spite of funding issues. Park spoke about the two government groups on Oct. 1 at the Code for America Summit. The goal is for both teams to become so crucial to improving federal IT that they survive the change in administration in 2017.

Other agencies who have established digital service teams include Commerce, Transportation, EPA, and GSA.  Although no upfront funding has been granted for these teams, it’s likely that agencies believe they will pay for themselves through efficiency gains and cost savings, justifying upfront expenditures.