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9 Things You Should Know Before Debating HealthCare.gov, From Someone Who Actually Launched a Successful Government Website

BY Merici Vinton | Thursday, October 24 2013

Screenshot of ConsumerFinance.gov

Editor's note: Merici Vinton was one of the first employees of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as digital lead. She assisted the agency's chief technology officer Eugene Huang and its special advisor (and now Senator) Elizabeth Warren with the development of its technology and digital strategy. She oversaw the successful launch of ConsumerFinance.gov and recruited most of the original technology and digital team. She left CFPB in June 2012. About twelve percent of the agency's staff are part of its tech team.

Over the summer of 2010, I had coffee with Eugene Huang. Eugene worked in the White House as a Senior Advisor to the US CTO and had been recently appointed as the acting CTO at a new federal agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He asked me: What would you do if you had the opportunity to make digital and tech work in government?

My response was threefold: 1. Never build a website that's too big to fail; instead, start small. 2. Let's do open source when possible (preferably always). 3. Let's have in house strategy, design, and tech. None of this was particularly revolutionary in the private sector, however many government agencies at that time (and currently) outsource their technical capabilities to the point where the vision and strategy is out of house. Not only that, fixing a typo on a website can take 24 hours. My conversation with Eugene laid the foundation for what became our technology and digital team, as well as approach to digital services. Here's how we did it.

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