Obama taps ex Google engineer to head government tech overhaul

In order to avoid another HealthCare.gov debacle, US President Obama has hired a team of digital experts to overhaul government IT systems and websites.

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Credit: The White House
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Credit: LinkedIn

The White House has hired a team of digital experts to overhaul US government websites and infrastructure in order to avoid future disasters similar to the HealthCare.gov scheme.

The US government announced the creation of the team dubbed the "US Digital Service" on Monday, according to the Associated Press. The team, ran by ex-Googler Mikey Dickerson, will focus on upgrading government websites, underlying IT infrastructure and also making government websites more consumer friendly.

Dickerson stepped in last year after taking a break from Google, and oversaw fixes to the disastrous HealthCare.gov website. The website was riddled with errors at launch which caused chaos as Americans attempted to sign up to Obamacare, leading to the system being branded as "unacceptable" by President Obama and a hit squad of tech experts being drafted to fix up the underlying code of the health insurance enrolment portal. Dickerson, a former Google website reliability manager, was part of the solution.

In a statement, Dickerson said:

"I'm excited for the opportunity to shift the focus of government IT delivery from compliance to greater impact and meeting the needs of real citizens. We can make services a lot more effective and cost efficient with better use of technology."

The US Digital Service team will attempt to bring government systems in line with the private sector, and will "collaborate with federal agencies to identify and address gaps in their capacity to design and operate customer-facing services," according to the AP. 

US officials say the team will begin with a headcount of 25, and some of the hires will be outside of the government sphere. According to the New York Times, the team's immediate focus will be on conducting quick triage and fixing up services used by the general public on a daily basis.

"We're also trying to get in front of these things more in the future," the former Google engineer said, "to make the strike team less necessary in the future."

However, the team's budget will be small as they must draw upon budget allocations already set for this year. Dickerson's team will have $3 million at their disposal, although they have requested $13 million to be allocated out of next year's budget.

In addition, the White House has also released a draft playbook of best digital practices for US agencies to improve existing services.