White House promises: No suits for tech gurus

The White House may have gotten a new digital strike team to improve government technology, but it won’t require them to dress like everyone else at the office.

Mikey Dickerson, the head of the new U.S. Digital Service, said he’s going to keep coming to the office in untucked shirts and rumpled khakis, even when that office is in the West Wing of the White House.

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“People are putting up with me walking around [the Eisenhower Executive Office Building] and the West Wing just wearing whatever,” Dickerson said in a new White House video.

“I mean, not quite whatever — I’m not wearing a T-shirt,” he said. “I made some slight concessions. I’m wearing actual shirts with buttons and collars, but that’s about where we’re at right now.”

The new strike team announced last week is built around Dickerson, a former Google programmer brought in to fix HealthCare.gov after its disastrous rollout last year. The group will try to replicate that effort to streamline other ways the government interacts with the public.  

“What we saw during HealthCare.gov ... was how a fairly concentrated group of innovators, as long as they had a clear direction from the White House, could actually transform something pretty quickly,” President Obama said in a meeting captured in the new video.

Currently, the team consists of only a “handful” of people, Dickerson told The New York Times this weekend, though he said he hopes it will grow to about two dozen staffers. 

One visible symbol of whether or not the Obama administration is committed to changing the way it works, he said, is whether staffers will have to wear suits.

“That’s just the quickest shorthand way of asking: ‘Is this the same old business as usual or are they actually going to listen?’ ” Dickerson said. “It was important to a lot of the people that I recruited to work on HealthCare.gov.”

Jeff Zients, who helped lead the HealthCare.gov turnaround and is now director of the National Economic Council, said the new dress code worked fine for him.

“My vote: no suits,” he said with a chuckle. “Based on HealthCare.gov performance — your performance there — do the same play over and over again.”