Blogging for America

My Own Fellowship Year

Other than being a parent and a partner, Code for America has been the most important thing in my life for the past three years. I can’t imagine that it won’t remain so for many years to come. It’s challenging, and inspiring work, and I’m proud of the team we’ve built, the quality of the people we’ve attracted to the cause, and the stories of true change that we’ve been privileged to witness and to tell. Keep that in mind when you read what I am about to say: I’ve been asked to join the staff of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, serving as the Deputy CTO for Government Innovation under U.S. CTO Todd Park, a man whose work and character have been an enormous inspiration to me. And after much consideration, I’ve decided that I should take some of my own advice: I am taking my own fellowship year of sorts.

During my year, I hope, as the CfA fellows do, to both give and get. I want to give whatever perspectives and experiences I have to offer, and I want to gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to work in government, with all of its challenges and opportunities, because that experience is increasingly central to our work here. We may have started with a notion that people from the outside could make a difference, and we’ve seen that they do, but what we’ve learned is that the long term, sustainable change comes from harnessing the creativity and expertise of the people who work in government, and giving them tools to change the culture and the system from within. It’s out of a deep respect for the heroes and heroines in government whom I’ve met over the last three years that I’d like to do some of my own public service. When I go to collaborate with future local government partners, I want to be able to say that I know a little bit more about where they’re coming from and the environment they work in.

The opportunity to be a part of the amazing innovation that is happening in Washington today is truly unique. Many people have speculated that Code for America’s successes could only have happened from the outside; I’ve challenged that notion, pointing initially to the President’s own actions the second day of his first term, when he published a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, stating that government should be transparent, participatory, and collaborative. More recently, I’ve pointed to how quickly and dramatically people like Todd Park have not only created concrete value for taxpayers, but also made sustainable change that will make government work better for many years to come. I am honored that Todd will be trusting me with a program that’s had such a huge impact in such a short time, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, and I can’t think of a better partner to work with. Todd has proven without a doubt that the federal government can operate on lean startup principles and timeframes, that data creates value, and that there is a network of amazing people already changing the culture of government. To borrow from Code for America’s mission statement: he is showing that government can work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century.

One thing I do want to make clear: I am coming back to Code for America next year. The point of taking this position for a year is not just to make a difference within the federal government; it’s also to serve the mission, to learn from a master of government reform and his many colleagues, and to strengthen my ability to be effective in my job here at Code for America. Not bringing that back to this organization would be unbearable for me.

We are blessed to have an amazing team here at CfA and they are more than capable of leading the organization in my absence. The staff, the board, and the fellows are all making this fellowship year possible for me. Each board member is stepping up to be more involved day-to-day, the senior team is each taking on some of my duties, and all the staff and fellows will pitch in to keep telling the stories that make a difference, which are all our partners’ stories anyway. I’m particularly indebted to Bob Sofman and Abhi Nemani, our chief program officer and chief of staff respectively, who have agreed to co-lead as interim directors for the year. They and the rest of our senior team really lead the organization today, so our interim plan feels natural and practical. I’m grateful to them and to everyone who is coming together to let me have this unique experience and serve my country.

To everyone who cares about Code for America and the movement we are a part of, I hope you’ll reach out with any questions this news raises, and that you’ll understand and support this decision.

Code for America Labs, Inc is a non-partisan, non-political 501(c)(3) organization. Content is licensed through Creative Commons.