New York Times Magazine: Code Cracking – Why Is It So Hard to Make a Website for the Government?

November 10, 2016

In April 2013, Leo O’Farrell, director of the CalFresh food-stamp program in San Francisco, received a note from Trent Rhorer, the city’s executive director of human services. It was about a deal Rhorer had just struck with Code for America, a civic-tech nonprofit that places young experts with local and state governments. In return for a $255,000 fee, the city would get 15-month commitments from fellows, as they’re called, drawn from Code for America’s ranks of engineers, designers and product managers. Their job would be to create, according to the language of the contract, a “web-based technology solution to increase the ability of the lowest-income San Franciscans to access public benefits.” Rhorer knew that a young staff member in O’Farrell’s office, Tiana Wertheim, had distinguished herself working on these kinds of “digital delivery” projects; he wanted O’Farrell and Wertheim to meet with the fellows and see what they could come up with.

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