Why Our Country Needs More Civic Tech Leaders

Why government is a great place to work for technologists, data scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs who want to serve and solve problems for the American people.

Our country needs more Presidential Innovation Fellows. Our government needs product, engineering, design, technology, and organizational and development leaders who have the experience and management skills to solve critical problems, create new teams, and make a significant impact on the way citizens experience government services.

Charles Worthington, Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and former Presidential Innovation Fellow, addressing the 2019 PIFs. (photo credit: Jeff White, GSA)

The mission of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program is to transform the federal government from within. We do this by embedding talented individuals into federal agencies facing significant mission challenges. For example, Fellows serve in the senior echelons of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the Food and Drug Administration, to name just a few. They have helped find new ways to partner with the private sector to reduce crime, make it easier for patients to enroll in the cancer trials, and ease the path for veterans seeking care.

PIFs collaborate with federal leaders who recognize that their own agencies can no longer afford to operate as they have in the past. We work with our agency partners to unlock data, apply artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions, create new business models, and adapt policy to be more agile—all in the service of Americans. Also, more than ever, the federal government needs security experts to join the cybersecurity cause.

In addition to the mission of the work, we love the Presidential Innovation Fellows program because of the diverse cohort of colleagues we get to see and work with every day. Everyone in the Fellowship embodies the traits of a servant leader, dedicated to achieving success and learning from failures. We see these same traits in our civic technology service colleagues, including 18F and the United States Digital Service. While the Fellowship itself lasts one to two years, more than half the Fellows realize that government service is a higher calling. They choose to stay on in senior positions that include Chief Technology Officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Marketing Officers, their deputies, and many other roles. For the Fellows who leave the government, many choose to bring this public service esprit de corps to their next roles.

Within government agencies, Fellows often view themselves as “entrepreneurs-in-residence.” Like an entrepreneur working at a venture fund or startup, Fellows work to embody the spirit of an innovator: tireless, always learning, and building a vision. Working collaboratively, we help shape, define, and lead initiatives that serve the interests of the American people.

Perhaps most importantly to government service, we serve all Americans. We serve them regardless of race, religion, or economic status. As civic entrepreneurs, we understand that the best leaders serve others. As a Fellow, your focus is on what’s best for your team and agency. You spend your time partnering with government leaders to articulate a problem and vision and then build the capacity to make an impact on the American people. PIFs can’t deliver that impact alone. It’s not unusual for a Fellow to spend several months learning how an agency operates before narrowing in a specific problem to solve. To make that impact, you teach others how to take risks. You give credit for successes. You model good behavior. You own bad ideas too, and you take responsibility for failures, and learn how to bounce back from them. As John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

We sincerely hope that you consider applying for the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Our country needs you. We are looking for Fellows with a range of backgrounds interested in developing the workforce of the future, keeping us safe from terrorism and cyber attack, responding to natural disasters, ensuring the safety of food and medicine, protecting the environment, and improving our internet infrastructure to name just a few. To apply directly to our program, please visit our website to begin your application process for the Summer 2019 Cohort.

We also encourage you to apply to the other government programs and fellowships. These services include the White House Fellows Program, the Presidential Management Fellowship, 18F, and the United States Digital Service. You may also visit the recently redesigned USAJOBS.gov.


Housed within the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and Technology Transformation Services (TTS), the PIFs have access to a large network of technology professionals working to re-shape government from a variety of vantage points: with a cadre of free government-wide services via the Office of Products and Programs; via the 18F program that partners with agencies to strengthen technology practices through short projects; and through the TTS Centers of Excellence that are leveraging industry innovation to shape and centralize government best practices and expertise.

On January 20, 2017, the President of the United States signed the TALENT Act (H.R. 39) to codify the Presidential Innovation Fellows program into law and recruit private sector science and technology innovation leaders into federal government service. The program is administered as a partnership between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the General Services Administration (GSA). For more information, and to apply, see apply.pif.gov.

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