Matthew Cutts, acting administrator of the U.S. Digital Service, details the new acquisition certification, discusses how they keep projects on task at agencies, and the overlap between government and the tech world.
As the government continues to modernize the way it provides services to citizens, leading the charge is the U.S. Digital Service. The team, formed during the Obama administration, is tasked with improving government websites and consulting agencies on IT issues. Recently, USDS introduced a certification program for digital acquisition. Certificate holders will have to oversee any IT acquisition over $7 million. “What we saw is that the federal government buys tanks, paperclips and software in pretty much the same way, no matter what. The U.S. Digital Service did a pilot a few years ago to train up contracting officers,” said Matthew Cutts, acting administrator of USDS. “The idea was pretty simple: try to bring in the best digital practices to make sure that we can buy digital services better… This new certification is a fantastic way to scale up the impact so that entirely across the federal government you can have that sort of thing.” Cutts told Government Matters that agencies are receptive to the changes that USDS suggests, because their bottom-line is successfully serving citizens. “I think it’s wonderful how mission‑driven these civil servants are at these agencies. One tactic that we’ve found very helpful is to remind people about the user that they are serving,” said Cutts. “So at Veterans Affairs, we will bring in a recording of a veteran saying they call the VA every day at 9 AM… and just hearing the voice and being reminded [that] this is the mission we are here for.” Comparing his time in government to his time in Silicon Valley, Cutts believes it’s possible to be a force for good in both the public and private sector. “In the technology industry, everybody feels like they want to make the world a better place. They want to make a change. What most people don’t realize is there’s now this path. It’s not just industry, it’s not just academia, you can come and make a huge impact in government.” Cutts told Government Matters. “The overlap of people who want to make the world better in the tech industry and the overlap of people who are open to do a tour of service means that we can help pull people in. And once they see the impact they can have, they really get hooked.”