The U.S. Digital Service July 2017 Report to Congress

A comprehensive rundown of current priority projects.

Congress has asked that the U.S. Digital Service provide a regular update on progress in each of its programs. Earlier this week, we publicized our July 2017 Report to Congress, which provides an in-depth overview of current priority projects. The introduction of the report is posted below, and the entire write-up is available on our website:

The United States Digital Service was established in 2014 to tackle the federal government’s most critical public-facing digital services. From veterans receiving appeals responses in a timely manner to citizens accessing more government services online thanks to secure identity proofing, USDS is focused not only on improving how the American people can interact with their government online, but on transforming that experience to help build the people’s trust in government.

This report details USDS’ most recent high priority, high impact projects:

  • Streamlining VA Appeals Processing: The Digital Service team at VA (DSVA) has been working with VA to release one component of a modernized system, Caseflow, at a time. Rather than simply replicating the old system with modern technology, each new component of Caseflow is evaluated on the basis of timeliness and accuracy to determine if processes should be reworked during development. This agile versus waterfall approach to IT delivery ensures that new functionality is useful and meets users’ needs. The DSVA deployed the first component of Caseflow (Caseflow Certification) in April 2016. This application ensures that the Board has all requisite information before they review a case, and that claims system data matches appeals system data.
  • Simplifying Veteran-facing Services through Vets.gov: The Digital Service team at VA (DSVA) launched Vets.gov in November 2015 to streamline a veteran’s experience to discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits they have earned in one place using any device. Vets.gov has one login that meets current NIST security standards, is mobile-responsive, and optimizes veteran self-service and automation through improved design, increased ease-of-use, and plain language. Since the initial launch, the team has iterated on the site through 50 continuous product launches and reduced release cycle times of 7 days compared to the previous 90 days.
  • Login.gov (Consumer Identity): USDS and the General Service Administration’s 18F have been building a common identity platform, known as login.gov, to improve and secure the experience of interacting with government online. The two groups teamed up with technologists from across the federal government to take advantage of previous efforts toward this goal. Login.gov has been built to make accessing government benefits and services easier, faster, and more secure.
  • Modernizing our Immigration System: The DHS Digital Service has been supporting the release of USCIS’s most critical digital services including ELIS — the enterprise software that will support adjudication of digitized immigration forms, and myUSCIS — the authenticated user experience which will allow applicants to apply and track their cases online.
  • Modernizing Small Business Certification for Government Contracting: The certify.sba.gov (Certify) platform is a critical priority for the SBA. USDS began working with the agency in February 2015 to develop the platform while streamlining certification processes. The Certify system replaces current legacy systems, eliminating paper based mailed applications, creating a more effective and efficient structure to determine eligibility for small business applicants. Additionally, the new system will enhance search and reporting capabilities, allowing other federal agencies access to small business communities across the nation.
  • Advisor Network (ANET): The Defense Digital Service (DDS) began development efforts in November 2016 to replace the legacy system with a new product built using modern software development standards. DDS spent 15 weeks building ANET 2.0 with small teams on rotation to Afghanistan. They worked directly with NATO advisors and leadership to build the system’s replacement in theatre and in conjunction with a team at the Pentagon. ANET 2.0 was fully deployed on a classified network to roughly 800 advisors across Afghanistan in March 2017 and the long-term maintenance/sustainment was handed over to NATO developers based in Europe. The unclassified ANET 2.0 source code was also released on Code.mil, the DoD’s first free and open source platform launched by DDS in February 2017. DDS is currently working on the broader adoption of ANET to support security cooperation missions supported by the DoD across the globe.
  • Hack the Pentagon: DDS partnered with the DoD to launched the first federal bug bounty, Hack the Pentagon, in Spring 2016. The success of Hack the Pentagon resulted in two follow-on activities: first, the DoD established its first Vulnerability Disclosure Policy, which created a safe, secure, and legal avenue for private citizens worldwide to report vulnerabilities found on public facing DoD websites and applications. It also serves as a bridge between the DoD and security researcher community to work openly and in good faith together to identify and disclose vulnerabilities. Second, the DoD issued a multiple-award Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle to Silicon Valley security firms that enable all DoD components and military services to launch their own bug bounty challenges against their respective assets. Establishing this contract vehicle is part of a broader effort to normalize and foster the adoption of this crowd-sourced approach to security across DoD. The contract vehicle also serves as a model for other federal agencies to follow and implement as well. The first contract with HackerOne focuses on public-facing DoD websites such as military recruiting services. The second contract with Synack is reserved for more sensitive, internal DoD assets and registration for these challenges is limited to highly vetted researchers within the Synack hacker community.
  • Defense Personal Property System: DDS deployed a Rapid Response Team (RRT) to provide immediate remediation to DPS, and and rescued the site within four days. After DDS’ RRT quick remediation, DPS users were reporting significantly reduced latency rates with more than 4,500 concurrent users — the largest amount of concurrent users DPS has ever supported. Most importantly, shipment requests that were successfully requested and scheduled increased from 16% to over 99%. During the recovery of DPS, DDS helped USTRANSCOM to optimize their database and took steps to ensure that the traffic from automated computer scripts written by third parties would not impact the system performance for service members and their families. In order to prevent traffic from these scripts from consuming all available server resources, DDS helped staff implement two tools capable of throttling automated script traffic, as well as the ability to blacklist specific IP addresses being used by overly aggressive bots. These steps better distributed load to the system, freeing up servers to handle more overall traffic, resulting in increased speed for users. Early metrics indicate that third party services are adapting their behavior to the new system rules, and DPS has been significantly more stable since March 27, 2017, just two weeks after the crash. DDS continues to work with USTRANSCOM to modernize and to evolve the DPS system into a system on par with private sector sites in terms of user experience and performance.
  • Congressionally Mandated Medicare Payment Changes: Implementation of the MACRA legislation required significant changes in how Medicare measures the value of care doctors provide. HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) engaged USDS to bring best practices and modern approaches to the implementation of the transition to ensure it was clear and effective. Since launching a plain language website in October 2016, USDS has continued to support CMS to improve the Quality Payment Program (QPP) through better physician feedback, clearer program participation instructions, and a customer-driven approach that helps partner with doctors nationwide on behalf of beneficiaries.
  • Transforming Federal IT Procurement through Digital IT Acquisition Training: USDS’ acquisition team and OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) hosted a prize competition on Challenge.gov to have a vendor develop and launch a digital IT acquisition professional training (DITAP) for federal contracting officers. Since the first six-month class launched in October 2015, 54 contracting professionals successfully completed the training and development program pilots. These professionals are now working in their agencies as advisors or contracting officers on various digital service initiatives, including Vets.gov and Sam.gov. The information gathered in this program is being used to finalize the competencies that will be used as the basis for the FAC-C Core-Plus Digital Service Certification, which is expected to be finalized and made available by October 2017.

Additional details on each of these projects can be found here.