The White House launched a two-year fellowship Monday designed to place early-career software engineers, data scientists and other technologists at federal agencies.
Dubbed the U.S. Digital Corps, participants will improve IT service delivery in relation to the federal coronavirus response, economic recovery, cybersecurity and agencies’ individual missions.
The Day One Project proposed the fellowship back in December as a way to eventually recruit thousands of recent graduates across technical fields, in what could become the Biden-Harris version of President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps or President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, said Nick Sinai, former federal deputy chief technology officer under President Obama.
“We have great opportunities for experienced tech talent to serve in term-limited roles in government like [the U.S. Digital Service], 18F and [Presidential Innovation Fellows],” Sinai said. “But we haven’t focused on getting talented technologists into government at the start of their career; the Digital Corps can change that.”
The Digital Corps will be housed within Technology Transformation Services at the General Services Administration, which partnered with the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Office of Science and Technology Policy to deliver the program. The collaboration is notable as GSA, OMB and OPM aim to restore trust in their working relationship, as is CISA’s involvement because USDS, 18F and the PIF program aren’t as focused on security.
An initial cohort will launch with 30 fellows in the fall at more than five participating agencies including GSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Fellows will be matched with agencies based on their skills and interests and mentored through a development curriculum with individual performance plans.
Traditionally government has focused on credentials, but skills will matter more than a degree for the Digital Corps. Recruits will come from both leading undergraduate programs and alternative training pathways like apprenticeships, bootcamps and certificate programs to make the cohort as diverse as possible. Currently, only 3% of the federal tech workforce is under age 30, and only 26% are women.
“To provide best-in-class service delivery, agencies must have the right combination of workforce talent in place as their existing personnel accelerate towards retirement,” said Clare Martorana, federal chief information officer, in a statement. “The U.S. Digital Corps is a forward-looking solution that will build a deep bench for technology modernization and digital transformation across the federal government and meet the Biden administration’s goals of advancing federal IT and cybersecurity.”
The Digital Corps was inspired by nonprofit Coding It Forward’s Civic Digital Fellowship, which has placed more than 300 collegiate technologists at 12 agencies. Co-founder Chris Kuang and Caitlin Gandhi transitioned to GSA to build the fellowship.
Applications open in the fall.
“The launch of the Digital Corps comes at a time when more and more technologists want to contribute to the public good,” said Jen Pahlka, former deputy federal CTO. “Many are disillusioned with the opportunities of big tech and want to do things like ensure that eligible people get food assistance or veterans benefits or speed up visas for refugees into the US.”