“Government is who shows up.” This is a common saying in the civic tech community. However, in the past, many barriers to entry prevented some people from showing up in federal service, especially early-career technologists.
When I was a college student, I remember searching USAJOBS for an entry-level position that combined two of my passions: technology and public service. Imagine how I felt when the only result that came back was an unpaid position installing basic software!
That experience set me on a path of creating more opportunities for students and recent graduates in public interest technology, which is why I am so excited that GSA, with the White House, Office of Personnel Management, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has launched the U.S. Digital Corps, a new two-year fellowship offering an onramp into federal service for early-career technologists.
The U.S. Digital Corps will recruit passionate, mission-driven technologists from undergraduate programs as well as alternative training pathways such as apprenticeships, bootcamps, and certificate programs, to build a highly skilled U.S. Digital Corps that represents the diversity of the United States. Fellows will contribute to high-impact efforts across the federal government, including helping to advance Administration priorities of coronavirus response, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate.
The American people are the nation’s greatest strength. Our ability to serve the public effectively depends on having dedicated and mission-driven staff. And, in today’s digital and pandemic-shaped age, technology delivers many federal government services.
Technology teams like GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS) were created to bring skilled private-sector technologists into government for term-limited tours of duty. They were not necessarily designed to support early-career technologists or pave pathways towards careers in public service.
With the Digital Corps, we are driving the change that we’ve been waiting to see.
The Digital Corps builds upon TTS’ experience hosting summer interns and other career-defining and preparation opportunities. We will provide a variety of innovative work experiences at the intersection of technology and public service in addition to training, networking, and developmental opportunities that are designed to build technical and professional skills. Fellows will also develop a broad knowledge of the government and its core functions.
While Digital Corps Fellows will initially work across offices and units at GSA, they will also be detailed across the federal government, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
I asked Charles Worthington, a 2013 Presidential Innovation Fellow and current Chief Technology Officer for the VA, what the U.S. Digital Corps represents to him:
“Junior and early-career talent is critical to VA’s long-term commitment to serving Veterans effectively in the digital age. A program like Digital Corps will simultaneously meet our talent needs while helping mitigate workforce risks related to retirements and loss of institutional knowledge. VA is excited to participate as a founding host agency for this innovative program. We are looking forward to growing the next generation of digital leaders to serve our nation’s Veterans.”
With the Digital Corps, I hope that fewer people will have the same experience I had when searching USAJOBS as a recent graduate, and instead see a clear path to get involved.
Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy called Americans to serve in his inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” The U.S. Digital Corps represents this same call to public service—though re-cast in the 21st century to include Americans with innovative technology and data skills.
Applications for the first two cohorts of U.S. Digital Corps fellows will open this fall for fellowships beginning in 2022.