Created in 2014, 18F is a design and technology consultancy within the federal government. 18F brings people from a range of backgrounds, technical expertise, and design practice into government and partners with federal and state agencies to improve the way government designs, buys, and builds technology to improve the user experience of government.
I joined 18F as a strategist in February 2016. My four-year term expired February 2020.
Looking back on almost four years at 18F (Written 2019)
As I described below back in 2016, I joined 18F in the hope that it would be a restorative experience. I wanted to do important work with teammates that would push me to grow on projects that would challenge me. Mostly though, if I’m honest, I still needed to shake my frustrations from the 2013 relaunch of HealthCare.gov and I thought 18F could help.
Working in government is hard. It’s a heavily constrained context with a million complicating factors and ever-shifting priorities. But also…there’s nothing like it. I’ve never worked with more mission-oriented people anywhere else. After almost four years, 18F has been the experience I hoped it would be. Amazing teammates and partners, fascinating challenges, and good leverage to instigate growth with partners. I’m leaving satisfied and restored.
There have been three main aspects to my 18F work: consulting with agency partners, developing a new initiative around public benefits eligibility, and a variety of less tangible efforts to help 18F grow.
Most of my work at 18F was consulting with partners in a variety of arrangements, from short path analysis projects to longer partnerships that stretched over a year. I led or played a key role in the following projects:
- Medicaid oversight assessment - 2019-present (CMS) - Developing cohesion across multiple efforts and facilitating systems practice work around the Medicaid oversight regime.
- AK Medicaid eligibility & enrollment system modernization - 2017-18 (AK DHSS DPA) - Long-term capacity building partnership, aimed at establishing an incremental model of legacy modernization. Our cross-functional team work focused on modular procurement, technical prototyping to reduce risk, and establishing a modular experience and a DevOps pipeline.
- AK child welfare system modernization - 2018 (AK DHSS OCS) - I focused on landing the engagement with clearly prioritized work for the partner team to carry forward.
- Pilot flight training scheduling workshop - 2018 (DIU / USAF / USN / USMC) - Defining areas of shared opportunities and steps forward across a large group of cross-branch participants.
- Automated litigation support path analysis - 2017 (DOJ OCIO) - Eight-week project to understand the impact of a planned initiative and define optimal next steps.
- Disability Case Processing System technical assessment - 2017 (SSA) - Review of existing case management system and assessing reuse opportunities.
- CA child welfare case management system modernization - 2016 (CA DSS) - Reviewing multiple tracks of work and prototyping a set of potential shared components to bring the tracks together.
- Unaccompanied alien child portal modernization - 2016 (HHS ACF ORR) - Multistage effort to assess the UAC Portal and prototype a capacity planning tool.
- FEC.gov redesign - 2016 (FEC) - Led design of legal resources aspects.
Eligibility APIs Initiative
2017-present - Having learned through consulting work about the struggles state agencies face balancing scarce resources, outsourced technical expertise, and the complexity of federal requirements for joint federal/state program implementation, I sought to explore how we might reduce burden at both the state and federal levels, while making legacy modernization easier and faster, ultimately with the goal of improving service delivery to the people the programs serve. I led the project through four rounds of 10x innovation funding, securing $1.5M to develop the idea and work towards implementation with multiple agency partners.
The initiative is ongoing. More on the Eligibility APIs Initiative here.
Helping 18F grow
I have worked to help 18F become an increasingly effective and empathetic organization. I have largely done this as an active organization citizen; informal leadership. There are a few ways that I’ve done this that I am proud of:
Confronting the tech hero narrative
Early in my time at 18F, I worked to redirect the tech hero narrative that grew out of the HealthCare.gov rescue towards a more positive posture towards partners. A lot of people helped combat this attitude. For the most part, I think this has been corrected.
Cofounding the 18F Human Services Portfolio
18F works with agencies across government and is internally organized based on practice areas. Recognizing that many of our projects shared similar missions, workflows, challenges, and oversight regimes, yet we were not effectively sharing institutional knowledge across the organization, I sought to nurture an informal community that could help create connections and increase our impact. Through regular project sharing sessions, team activities, and chat channels, we grew a sense of camaraderie that allowed us to more deeply understand the work happening within 18F.
Recognizing the advances we were making, Alex Pandel and I pitched the idea of a formal Human Services Portfolio to leadership. In 2018 our proposal was accepted with Alex as the first Director. Based on the portfolio’s success, in 2019, 18F announced a shift towards greater orientation around the model, including the creation of additional portfolios and aligning managerial structure within the portfolios.
Strategy chapter leadership
As a supervisor, I focused on helping newer teammates gain a foothold and navigate the shifting terrain of government work.
Looking forward to a new adventure (Written 2016)
Starting in February 2016, I’ll be joining the stellar team at 18F. It’ll be my third tour working to help government better serve the people.
The second time was for the relaunch of HealthCare.gov in 2013/2014 which introduced the health insurance marketplace. Despite knowing the work I and others did to establish a cohesive end-to-end experience that successfully remedied an earlier deeply flawed approach, the technical problems of the launch have deeply affected me.1 It’s been hard to shake.
I haven’t shaken it. I don’t really want to. An experience like that is deeply instructive. But I also don’t want that to be my last taste of government work.
So I’m thrilled to be joining 18F. I’ll be an Innovation Specialist with the Consulting division. 18F has been moving fast, doing amazing work, and using sound methods.
For some background on 18F and the role they play in the new government tech ecosystem, read Inside Obama’s Stealth Startup.
In addition to meaningful work with purpose and interesting problems, I’m seeking community. It’s something I’ve sought out before. I know a few folks at 18F already, and I’ve admired many more for a long time. 18F’s commitment to transparency has meant that I can observe the operations of the organization to a good degree from the outside. What I’ve seen looks familiar, in the best sense of that word.
I know I’m entering a period of intense learning and am excited to get started.
But first, I’m going to take a little time to recharge.
1 I have some issues with the prevailing narrative around the HealthCare.gov launch that I hope to address in the future. In short, there are many, many, many good people within government, who are deeply committed, mission-driven, and yearning to work in efficient and modern ways. I’m looking forward to partnering with more folks like that through 18F.
Map from 1910 by Walker Lith. & Pu Co. from loc.gov. 18F get’s its name from its headquarters location at 18th and F Streets as well as the eighteen fellows in the inaugural Presidential Innovation Fellows class.