Why I’m bringing the U.S. Digital Service to the Department of Homeland Security

by Eric Hysen,
Digital Service Lead,
Department of Homeland Security

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk when my colleague walked up to me and handed me a crumpled piece of paper. I took a look at it and had to take a moment to collect myself. She had found the crumpled up piece of paper on the floor of a Metrorail car that morning. On it were a series of letters and numbers, followed by dates and dollar amounts.

It would probably be indecipherable to most people, but I quickly saw it for what it was: a list (including costs and timelines) of every government form an individual would have to file to bring a relative into this country.

Now, maybe this person was just doodling because they find scribbling government form numbers a welcome distraction from the DC Metro at rush hour. But to me, this was a reminder of how people I see every day, who might even be sitting next to me on the train, depend on the federal government for some of the most important things they will do in their lifetimes. And I firmly believe they deserve an experience worthy of that, that doesn’t make them chart out form numbers in the middle of a crowded train car.

My name is Eric Hysen, and I’m the Digital Service Lead for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Here I am sharing our work on international civic engagement at Google.

I’ve been working most of my life to use technology to improve how people interact with government. In college, I built a website for students to share their views on politics and get better informed on key issues. After I graduated, I joined Google’s Civic Engagement team as a software engineer and then product manager, launching tools in over 40 countries to help people vote and engage with their representatives. And just over a year ago, I left to become one of the first members of the United States Digital Service in the White House.

For the past year, I’ve been working with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security, to modernize our country’s immigration system.

We’ve made good progress in partnership with exceptional teams inside the agency. Today, two of the largest immigration transactions are processed completely electronically on a modern application, and we’re on the cusp of transforming more critical parts of the immigration system, including the process for naturalization. (Here’s more about our work with USCIS.)

So now, I’m thrilled to leave my role at the White House to formally join the Department of Homeland Security as the first member of the DHS Digital Service team.

We’ll be taking the model the U.S. Digital Service has been using for the past year and making it a core part of how DHS does business. We’ll be expanding our work to modernize the immigration system as well as taking on new challenges across DHS’s critical missions — everything from facilitating international trade to responding to disasters to improving the federal government’s information security practices.

I’m honored to be joining thousands of exceptionally talented public servants across DHS to support their important work; the people I’m meeting are dedicated and innovative. What’s most inspiring is that they’re ready to work with the best technology talent from the private sector to transform how DHS serves the American people.

As a technologist, I know it’s sometimes easy to get lost in data and analytics. But seeing that crumpled up piece of paper reminded me once again that those numbers represent human beings. And that behind every interaction online, there’s a human being making choices, calculations, and trade-offs in the hopes of a better life.

It’s why I’m asking you to come join me in building a government where no one is stuck mapping out complex form numbers while sitting on the train. It’s why we need engineers, designers, product managers, and others who are passionate about making the government work better, to help us make that possible. Tell us about yourself and enter the referral code “DHS” — I’m excited to meet you!

Eric Hysen is a founding member of the U.S. Digital Service and the Digital Service Lead at the Department of Homeland Security.

If you want to join Eric and others in transforming the way our government works, let us know at whitehouse.gov/USDS.