The sloppy look is officially in – even for officials at the White House.
Mikey Dickerson, the newly-appointed administrator of the new U.S. Digital Service, a technology corps focused on improving government IT, roams the halls of the West Wing in what might delicately be termed Zuckerbergian attire.
“People are putting up with me walking around the EEOB and the West Wing just wearing whatever,” a rumple-shirted Dickerson said in a video released recently by the White House. “I mean, not quite whatever ... I made some slight concessions.”
And in an interview with ABC News, Dickerson, who spent eight years in Silicon Valley before moving to Washington, said: “It’s not that there’s a problem with anybody wearing suits. It’s just that I don’t care.”
According to Dickerson, a more relaxed dress code could create a more collaborative culture.
“People should wear whatever is going to get their job done,” he said.
And Dickerson almost always gets the job done.
Before being named USDS administrator, the Pomona grad made a name for himself at Google’s site reliability engineering department, and did a quick stint on the data team of Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
Last year he was drafted to the elite “trauma team” called in to overhaul the beleaguered healthcare.gov. His colleagues at HHS credit him with fixing the site, and Obama even called him a “hotshot.”
Dickerson’s success with the now-infamous website – which he lovingly calls his “government adventure” – led to a push for an IT overhaul, and the U.S. Digital Service was born.
Launched just last month, the USDS aims to do for the rest of government what the trauma team did for healthcare.gov: improve citizens’ online interactions with government agencies.
This time around, however, there’s far less media scrutiny.
“It’s much easier to work without that kind of pressure,” Dickerson told ABC. “It’s always easier to make corrections … before there’s millions of people watching.”
Dickerson and his team haven’t yet identified which agencies they’ll target first. But they have devised an official Playbook – a list of 13 best practices that read like a litany of Healthcare.gov’s failures.
Number nine suggests addressing traffic surges. Number 10 recommends frequent testing. And number six recommends “assign one leader and hold that person accountable.”
“A lot of what you see in the playbook came directly from conversations we had as we worked on Healthcare.gov,” Dickerson acknowledges. “Towards the end of that project, those of us that worked on it made a lot of observations about things that, you know, things that needed to change.”
The USDS team is also soliciting feedback on the playbook through a web collaboration platform called GitHub. And they’ve already implemented several suggestions, from aesthetic tweaks to more substantive content changes.
“I’m glad you noticed!” Dickerson says when asked about the GitHub initiative. “I hope [people] are excited about the opportunity to participate.”
Navigating government websites like IRS.gov is generally about as fun as visit to the dentist, Dickerson concedes. But he says the gap between the government and the private sector isn’t as wide as people think.
“I genuinely don’t think of it as [the government] lagging behind,” says Dickerson. “The tech industry tends to do things a different way.”
“The private companies have a few years’ head start on building really large services that are expected to be really highly-available. They set the bar extremely high,” he continues. “Google, Facebook, and others, they’ve created the expectation that the site will never be down.”
“The difference I would say, is that companies can try projects like that all the time, and if they fail, you just never hear about them. The government doesn’t get to get away with that,” he adds. If the government tries a big project and it fails, then everybody knows about it.”
Like many Silicon Valley tech gurus, Dickerson is a quirky guy.
Until last week, his Linkedin profile (which still features a photo of him in a yellow t-shirt and a safari hat) listed “No Fancy Title, Thanks” as his position.
“I would have been perfectly happy to do this entire job without a title, but … I have to pick my battles. So, if I can wear what I want and have to have a fancy title, then so be it,” he says.
Unlike the president, who is focused on his legacy as his White House years wind down, Dickerson hopes he won’t be mentioned in the annals of history.
“If we are a smash success,” he said, “you won’t even remember that we existed.”