White House Wants to Improve Government Websites

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EDGARTOWN, Massachusetts — The White House is putting the team of technology experts that helped revive the balky HealthCare.gov website to work, improving other government webpages, officials announced Monday.

The U.S. Digital Service, comprised of private and public sector technology experts, will help make websites of federal agencies and departments more user-friendly, accommodating the widespread desire among Americans to conduct business online.

The team will be led by Mikey Dickerson, a former Google engineer who left the tech giant last year to help improve the health care website after it crashed spectacularly upon its launch in October.

A team of experts from technology companies helped turn around the site, which eventually accommodated a surge in insurance sign-ups over the course of the six-month enrollment period. Final numbers indicated Obamacare enrollments surpassed 8 million people.

The White House wants to harness some of the success of that effort, applying the same principles to other federal government websites that are outdated, non-user friendly, or both.

“The same dynamic that drove the [initial] outcome of HealthCare.gov is present in other places,” said Steven VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer in President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. “We’re showing agencies: here’s another way. Here’s a new way to approach these things.”

The new team, housed with the OMB, will eventually number around 25. Private sector experts will be joined by workers with experience navigating the complicated system of federal regulations that government websites must adhere to.

“When we look across where we want to gather expertise, it comes from multiple places. But the big push here is to bring in people from the private sector,” VanRoekel said, describing the desire to find “21st century” approaches to the government’s digital properties.

The larger goal for the group, officials said, was to rethink the way Americans interact with federal agencies — eventually taking on challenges facing call centers and physical mail.

There’s “opportunity beyond just websites,” VanRoekel said.