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Congress should grow the Digital Services budget, it more than pays for itself (thehill.com)
68 points by rmason 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments

It's being cut because that's the destiny of all competent government. That's why the USPS was budgetary crippled by being forced mto prepay all pension obligations.

Since the budget is being cut in half and the majority of costs are for the techies working there, I'm wondering if anyone is going to be cut earlier than planned.

It would have sucked to give up a decent gig in the private sector for a promised 3 or 4 year tour with USDS, only to get cut after 1 year, especially since most employees end up moving from out of state to the DC area with all the accompanied costs.

The whole policy of cutting good government for the sake of cutting ANY government is maddening.

I've seen similar situations at the state level where good programs that help people get their lives in order and get off government programs are cut under the banner of saving money... mostly targeted by politicians who are upset by government programs.

It’s much easier to argue for privatizing government services that are poorly run and wasteful, than services that are well run and efficient. Making them function better would be antithetical to the end goal.

My understanding is that this budget is just a bargaining tactic. Note that it includes huge boosts to defense spending, 8 billion for a border wall, and cuts to every agency that democrats like. http://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/publications-and-resources/pr...

Also, I’ve never heard of the USDS but it’s a fantastic idea. There are lots of people in tech talking about how unfulfilling it is to work on optimizing ads all day and would totally take a pay cut in exchange for meaningful work. They should be advertising themselves more heavily.

Correct. The President does not set the budget; Congress does. The President works up and releases a budget both as a bargaining tactic and as a means to send signals to Congress as to what his priorities are. However, Congress is under no obligation to follow the President's wishes on the budget, and often departs from the President's proposed budget in many areas.

A good example is last year when Congress essentially completely ignored the Presidential budget.

Those darn checks and balances.

It’s outrageous the USDS is being cut so dramatically, they do amazing work and reducing investment seems incredibly short-sighted to me.

They did the same to GDS over here and USDS is modelled in part on GDS.

I can't chalk it up to stupidity any more I think at this point it has to be malicious.

If a gov dept is well run then their mates can't sell the same service at a massive markup.

What's outrageous is that the agencies that are providing important services are so inept at contracting for the services or hiring personnel that a whole other agency is required to come in and save the day. This highlights how unaccountable these agencies are for their incompetence.

It makes sense for the government to have a specialized agency to run these services and even manage the contracting if it is necessary. Have experts hire specialists etc...

The VA (veterans admin) alone has more than 350,000 employees. This does not count contractors, which could easily double the count.

Your idea makes sense if you're talking about an organization in the hundreds, but an organization the size and breadth of the VA already has the responsibility to do this job, and given their budget and headcount, they should be able to do this job and have the specialists required to get it done.

Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of Government Digital services needs only look at https://www.gov.uk/

The range and depth of the information/services on here really have blown me away in the past few years. I've personally used it to renew my passport and driving licence, get information for my taxes and seek information for a legal matter. Truly brilliant service (rare for a UK IT project)

From copywriting to UX, Gov.uk truly is the envy of the world.

> The U.S. Digital Service isn’t perfect, but it is clearly working. The team estimates that for every $1 million invested in USDS that the government will avoid spending $5 million and save thousands of labor hours. Over a five-year period, the team’s efforts will save $1.1 billion, redirect almost 2,000 labor years towards higher value work, and generate over 400 percent return on investment. Most importantly, USDS will continue to deliver better government services for the American people, including Veterans who deserve better.

> In the private sector, these kinds of numbers would not lead to a 50 percent cut in budget. Instead, you’d clearly invest further with that kind of return. Considering the ambitious goals set out in the President’s Management Agenda, the Trump Administration should double down on better support for the public, our troops, and our veterans. The best way to do that is clearly through investments like USDS.

Why would you halve the budget of a team that's yielding a more than 400% ROI (in terms of cost savings)?


> Why would you halve the budget of a team that's yielding a more than 400% ROI (in terms of cost savings)?

Because that goes against the official doctrine that the state is wasteful? Why do it inhouse when it could be outsourced to someone for twice the price that will return the money in kickbacks as campaign contributions?

I suspect it's more to do with hitting the bottom line of the election financiers.

400% ROI to whom?

More data makes hiding corruption harder, so I'm not sure if it really gives 400% to the decision makers.

USDS reports 400% ROI in savings to the taxpayers who fund the government with tax revenue (instead of kicking the can down the road with debt financing) and improvements in customer service quality.

https://www.usaspending.gov (Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Obama, McCain, Carper, Coburn)) has more fine-grained spending data, but not credit-free immutable distributed ledger transaction IDs, quantitative ROI stats, or performance.gov and #globalgoals goal alignment. We'd need a metadata field on spending bills to link to performance.gov and SDG Goals, Targets, and Indicators.

"Transparency and Accountability"

IIRC, here on HN, I've mentioned a number of times -- and quoted in the full from -- the 13 plays of the USDS Digital Services Playbook; all of which are applicable to and should probably be required reading for all government IT and govtech: https://playbook.cio.gov/

There are forms with workflow states that need human review sometimes. USDS helps with getting those processes online in order to reduce costs, increase cost-efficiency, and increase quality of service.

What shocks me is that people are willing to take the claim of a 400% ROI from an agency fighting for budget dollars at face value.

> Why would you halve the budget of a team that's yielding a more than 400% ROI ?

It is easy to achieve success with a fat budget like that. It is only natural that if that team does well, then some of its resources should be transferred to a team that doesn't so that it can get the opportunity to improve.


Tobias Macey recently interviewed David Holmes, director of engineering at USDS. There's plenty of background and insight into how USDS came about and how it works. https://www.pythonpodcast.com/usds-government-software-episo...

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