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The challenge

Working as a Federal government leader today means striving toward more user-focused and iterative program solutions while still holding responsibility for an often aging technology stack with its own history and constraints. The space between these two existences is fraught with tension that can be challenging to navigate.


We were interested in speaking directly with current and very recent leaders at the highest levels of the Federal government to hear the stories of their experiences. Staying in the Federal space allowed us to look at challenges specific to large, Federal technology initiatives. There are many different kinds of leadership across the Federal government. We interviewed Political Appointees, Senior Advisors, Executives and Senior Executives. Some had been Federal employees for over a decade, while some had been in their roles less than a year. 


The Federal government has millions of employees who are dedicated to their mission and are passionate about the services they provide. Many of these people could be supported to step into the many open and emerging technology leadership roles. We wanted to know more about how great leaders working in government today approach service delivery, how they define success, and how they use technology to make government services work better for everyone. These learnings can be used as places to start building capacity for future leaders.

Right now, Federal agencies and public interest technology communities are running multiple engagements to bring more technologists into government. Other efforts seek to empower Federal employees to enter technical leadership roles. This research is intended to be complementary to this larger effort, to help increase modern technical capacity in government, and help set future leaders up for success.

What we asked

Participants were given a project overview ahead of time & were provided with our question list if requested, or if required for clearance to speak with us. 


Core interview questions included:

  • General background, education, and employment history
  • Path to current or most recent role
  • If their role was new or an existing position
  • What kind of support or training they had when they first started
  • If the person considered themselves a “technologist” and why
  • Team and agency technical priorities
  • Biggest challenges to technical delivery 
  • What is “modern” technology or “modernization” 
  • Why projects succeed and what success means to them
  • Why projects fail and what failure means to them
  • Sustaining the work so it outlasts their tenure
The results

We have created two reports from this initial phase of research. 


Our first report covers the current state of modern technical leadership in the Federal government. This work features the experiences of more than 20 leaders, and includes many direct quotes. We also highlight opportunities for increasing support for their roles, their work and their teams. 


Our second report concentrated on success and failure in Federal service delivery. This work centers around our modern leadership research but also includes additions from our technical security interviews. Over the course of our research for both of these projects we had many conversations about how success and failure are defined in government. As patterns emerged, we decided to separate this topic into a second document.

“I try to always orient our goals and our work around what's best for users and for the public because that's the point.”
“Government will have 10 year modernization plans for certain things and by the time that plan is complete, the technology has totally changed.”
“The kinds of things that I got to work on were unlike anything I had ever seen in my professional career.”

In these documents we chose to let our participants speak for themselves wherever possible under a promise to remain anonymous when quoted.


We hope these reports contribute to a larger push toward concrete changes in the way the Federal government delivers technology and serves the people of the United States. We have included some ideas on where to start but know that further research is required. This topic is a work in progress for us and reports may be updated periodically to reflect new insights and additional research interviews.