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White House Launches Techie Recruitment Effort

The U.S. Digital Service can’t offer free dry cleaning, but helping people is also nice.

White House officials launched a new recruiting drive this week to convince the nation’s best and brightest software engineers, project managers and designers to put their lucrative careers on hold in favor of improving the federal government’s famously inefficient tech systems.

The U.S. Digital Service unveiled a recruiting campaign earlier this week aimed at convincing techies to spend up to two years making government tech systems more functional. The need for the program became pretty apparent two years ago when the fed’s $400 million insurance site HealthCare.gov immediately crashed upon launch.

The group formally launched in August with the hiring of Mikey Dickerson, a former Google engineer who was brought into government in late 2013 to oversee the repair of Healthcare.gov. It’s been aided by new U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith*, also a former Google executive.

The office currently has about 25 people, but officials there are looking to expand thanks to $20 million in appropriations they received last year from lawmakers hoping that the group could help troubleshoot other federal computer systems.

“It’s truly a national effort,” said Jennifer Anastasoff, a San Francisco-based recruiter for the team. She says they’ve been recruiting in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and other cities. “Any startup would kill to have the kind of people we already have.”

One of their first big successes: the group convinced White House bureaucrats to let them hire via an online application form instead of making applicants wade through the creaky federal jobs site USAJobs.gov.

“The private sector has a leg up in the perks they can offer. We wish, as the federal government, [that] we could pay for dry cleaning and free lunches, but we can’t. We can’t compete on perks,” said Haley Van Dyke, the U.S. Digital Service’s chief of staff. “What we can offer, in a much larger way, is mission. The projects we’re working on are wildly meaningful and offer tangible improvements to peoples’ lives.”

US Digital Service

The team’s first two projects were basically fixing the tech systems that have embarrassed the Obama administration the most over the past few years.

Most of the team initially focused on re-launching Healthcare.gov, the famously malfunctioning federal health insurance site, so it would actually work during open enrollment late last year. Although some concerns have been raised about the privacy of data collected and released, the site itself worked significantly better than the previous year.

Many in the White House group are now focusing on helping to overhaul systems at the Veteran’s Administration, which has been beset with troubles involving timely care for veterans and computer systems that allowed some local administrators in Phoenix to falsify wait-time records for patients. They’ve also been helping with the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola crisis in Africa and advising Interior Department officials on a bid proposal for a new online national parks reservation system at Recreation.gov.

* Smith is married to Re/code Co-Executive Editor Kara Swisher. For more details, please see Kara’s ethics statement, found here.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.