Serving & Returning: Maya Mechenbier
When USDS was founded in 2014, private sector technologists began taking a one-to-four year breaks from their careers to serve in the federal government to improve critical services. After nearly six and a half years, some USDSers have returned for round two. In this series, we will highlight those “boomerang” USDSers on their experiences of serving and returning.
Maya Mechenbier (she/her), Product Manager at USDS HQ. First served at USDS from April 2016 to August 2017.
I joined USDS in 2016. I was recruited by Mina Hsiang who was leading the Health and Human Services (HHS) Digital Service team at the time. She and I had been working together for a year on President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (All of Us Program) when I was detailed to the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House (OSTP) from my previous career position at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT at HHS. At USDS, I primarily supported the Quality Payment Program team at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of Medicare’s transition from fee-for-service payment of health care toward value-based care. My favorite aspect of both roles was the ability to work in an interdisciplinary team alongside engineers, designers and product managers who brought a different expertise and perspective to our work.
I left USDS after my maternity leave in 2017 with my first daughter to work at a law firm in DC focusing on digital health regulatory counseling. I wanted the private sector legal training, and I also wanted to work part-time for a while because of my daughter’s young age which the firm allowed me to do.
What made you decide to come back to USDS?
Mostly, the desire to help with COVID-19 response and assist with the new administration’s health policy priorities. I appreciate the training I got at my firm and was lucky to have a fantastic team and firm culture, but being in public service again, especially at this moment, is really energizing and a new challenge. I’m excited to be back.
What are you most excited about for the rest of your tour?
On the COVID-19 testing and vaccine data side, I’m looking forward to working on the legal and policy issues with data sharing in public health, including privacy, security and interoperability of health information. It’s such an interesting and tricky space because so much is dependent on the states’ decisions, and state laws and policies, which are different across all 50 states. I’m also hoping to support our CMS team again, and to help our Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) team which has always had such a strong portfolio of health projects. Finally, I’d love to use this time to learn more about human centered design and user research — an area that I’ve always been interested in but haven’t been able to explore for the last few years.
What would you tell a USDS alum who is considering a second tour?
Do it! This is such a unique time in our history with really interesting and complex challenges for USDS to help solve. We need a diverse mix of people who are new to government and bring a fresh point of view, as well as people who have been in public service before and understand the vocabulary and can navigate the processes that make our projects successful. It’s been so wonderful to reconnect with former colleagues (some of whom have taken long-term career positions at agencies, which I love to see) and feels like coming home.
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