A Digital Servant in the Age of Trump

Dear Mr. President:

As with most of my peers in the United States Digital Service, my time here thus far has been an unexpected detour in life. The majority of us have served under President Barack Obama, given he was a co-founder of the USDS, and like any other founder, he has left an indelible imprint on the organization he helped build. President Obama’s ethos is forever intertwined with USDS. That’s not to say it is not an apolitical organization; easing access to healthcare for veterans through better usability is not a partisan issue; nor is providing young Americans with more transparency when choosing universities; and certainly not modernizing aging software across the US government. The ethos I refer to centers more around a collective belief at digital service in being data-driven, in following the science, in fostering debate and healthy dissent, in being purposeful, and placing a premium on delivering results.

Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, former Deputy CTO at the White House, and friend of the USDS, penned an importance piece recently, exploring how we with strong moral compasses, we who love this country, we self-righteous geeks, find the resolve and tenacity to serve under an administration that is largely in constant conflict with the organizations that enable us to serve our country, organizations that were largely incubated, nurtured and empowered by a President that some of us likely feel more aligned with, a President who was not in conflict with us, a President who understood the force-multiplier geeks could orchestrate in servicing the American people. And let's assume for a moment that we the geeks find a way to get beyond that. For those of us that hold a fundamentally contrarian world view to yours, Mr. President, if our very moral cores are painfully inharmonious with yours, your actions, and everything you represent, how do you expect us to carry on?

Some can't and won't. Noah Kunin, an infrastructure engineer at 18F, painstakingly and beautifully expressed why he ultimately felt he could no longer serve under the Trump Administration. There is no prescription for how to manage our persistent turmoil, no blueprint for how we should arrive at answers; most of us are being forced to perpetually search deep within, to find peace with a justification for why we should or should not continue to serve your administration. Some days, you get out of bed with a pep in your step, and you throw on your "Greater Good" uniform; other days, you're just ashamed, ashamed that in some serpentine, ancillary way, you are enabling a dysfunctional organization, a morally reprehensible leader, and perhaps the very undermining of our democratic ideals and institutions.

I am currently leading the effort to accelerate adoption of the cloud for the Department of Defense.

This will be a transformational shift in how the largest employer on earth leverages and harnesses technology. At the DoD, we have perhaps the world's most critical and noble mission: to deter war and to defend the security of our nation.

And having been a technical product person, a startup founder, an Amazonian, I deeply understand the broad-ranging impact this could have for the DoD. I understand that ultimately, this will make us a more agile, lethal fighting force. It is an honor and a privilege for me to play a guiding role in this endeavor...until my mind becomes consumed by my President's role in dog-whistling racists, in dancing the line of the Emoluments Clause, in stripping away healthcare from those that need it most, in using Twitter to bully and intimidate dissenters, in undermining black America's constitutional right to protest, in demoting diplomacy in exchange for demagoguery, in alienating the international community and receding into isolationism, in suppressing science and embracing conspiracies, in disrespecting the office of the President of the United States. Knowing how monumentally transformative the cloud could be for the DoD, I wonder, am I helping find the Elder Wand, only to hand it over to Voldemort?

So today, we the geeks, us digital servants in the age of Trump, we all have intensely personal decisions to make, one we recallibrate with a furious frequency. For me, today, I believe that my efforts, my technical insights and capabilities, will be a unique asset to help our men and women in uniform make more data-driven decisions, and to allow our leadership to be more effective in meeting the DoD mission.

Mr. President, I remain here to serve faithfully, to perform my duties at my highest capacity, so that our men and women in uniform can be more effective soldiers. But know that thus far I have not been inspired by you. I remain a digital servant today because I love my country. I remain a servant today not because of you, but in spite of you.

With humility,

Deap Ubhi