Homepage for 18F, the administration-launched website dedicated to digital innovation in the federal government.

WASHINGTON – You might hear President Barack Obama talk about two relatively new initiatives to improve government technology during Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech — 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.

“Our mission is to really transform how the government builds and buys digital services,” said Hillary Hartley, deputy executive director at 18F. “So, we’re working from a three legged-stool of something we’ve called from the beginning: for you, with you, and by you.”

The administration launched 18F, an initiative for a digitally innovative and customer-focused government, as part of the General Services Administration in 2013. In the wake of problems launching HealthCare.gov, the U.S. Digital Service was born in the summer of 2014.

The U.S. Digital Service release a "playbook" last year.

The U.S. Digital Service released a “playbook” last year.

From Healthcare.gov crashing on launch day to archaic agency websites, deploying IT specialists and technologists on the frontline may just be what the federal government needs.

At least that’s how the people running 18F see it. Their job is to partner with federal agencies to engage in early-problem definition and prototyping as well as building capacity inside the various parts of the government. 18F wants to change the entire dynamic of the government’s approach to technology by incorporating a lot more thinking in the beginning of a digital project.

Hartley said 18F has “air cover” all the way up to the president as it works with other parts of the government on new ideas.

Obama has said technology should make it easy for Americans to interact with government. The president’s proposed budget for 2015 invests in innovative approaches to digital services to “deliver better, faster, and smarter services to citizens and businesses.”

In the past, 18F created notalone.gov, a platform to help victims of sexual assault on college campuses and is currently working on modernizing the portal for FOIA requests as well as redesigning peacecorps.gov.

The team — it’s named 18F because it’s housed in the GSA building at 18th and F streets — hopes to empower, educate and enable their partners so that “in an ideal world, we would make ourselves not need to exist,” Hartley said.

“We kind of operate under the assumption that if we do our jobs well enough, our partners in the federal agencies are starting to understand the methods and processes that we are bringing to them,” Hartley said.

Hartley said she hopes the budget will allow for more growth, enabling agencies to begin hiring their own digital services teams.

Congress last month passed a spending that allocated $20 million in funding for IT oversight at the Office of Management and Budget, a large percentage of which was dedicated to the U.S. Digital Service, which works closely with 18F.

Kathy Pham of the U.S. Digital Service will be joining Michelle Obama during the State of the Union this evening. Pham is “working to improve health IT for more Americans, expand veterans’ access to benefits, and transform how government provides services to families like her own,” according to a White House press release.

Hartley said she hopes the president will give “digital” a shout out at his address. If Obama does include 18F and the Digital Service in his speech, the message would be “short” and “sweet” on how these efforts are going to propagate and eventually take root in lots of different agencies.

“The reason we exist is to bring technologists into government, to get more technologists at the table while discussing the problems and solutions,” Hartley said.

The White House on Tuesday night shared this video
of the U.S. Digital Service team at work.