Google engineer hired to help fix government websites

This Dec. 20, 2013, file image shows part of the HealthCare.gov website in Washington. AP

Washington, D.C. is trying to learn a few things from Silicon Valley.

A former Google engineer, Mikey Dickerson, has been put in charge of a new team of digital experts with orders to upgrade the government's technology infrastructure and make its websites more user-friendly. The plan was announced by the White House on Monday.

Dickerson originally came to Washington to oversee fixes to the HealthCare.gov site after its bungled launch last fall.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to shift the focus of government IT delivery from compliance to greater impact and meeting the needs of real citizens," Dickerson said in a statement. "We can make services a lot more effective and cost efficient with better use of technology."

The new team will be comprised of about 25 people, including some new hires from outside government. According to the White House, Dickerson's team will try to bring government digital services in line with the private sector, collaborating with federal agencies to identify and address gaps in their capacity to design and operate customer-facing services.

The new tech push is aimed at avoiding a repeat of the HealthCare.gov debacle that stalled the rollout of President Obama's health care reform. At the time, he blamed the troubles on the limitations of government IT procurement procedures and called for changes to the system.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office review, the cost for building -- and fixing -- the website has already skyrocketed to $840 million.

As part of the digital team launch, the administration also released a playbook of best digital practices for government agencies and a handbook with ways the government can act with existing regulations to procure services that mirror the private sector.

The White House announced the new digital team while Obama was on his two-week summer vacation to the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.

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