The Biden administration updated government websites Wednesday to reflect the new White House — with a hidden message for IT talent. The source code for WhiteHouse.gov now includes the line, "If you're reading this, we need your help building back better" and a link to apply for the U.S. Digital Service (USDS).
The move echoes a similar message on the Biden-Harris transition team's website spotted by an anonymous hacktivist that goes by "The Jester'' last year, according to Newsweek. Another note in the source code directs users to check out the U.S. government's analytics program and the source code for USDS.gov features an image of "Mollie the crab, our unofficial mascot."
- In preparation for the presidency, the Biden-Harris transition team hired former USDS leaders to bolster digital efforts. The HTML messages hidden on government websites are the White House's latest attempt to tap top IT talent for public sector roles.
With a new administration comes the traditional wave of workforce turnover, as seen in the slew of resignations over the last few weeks. The public sector struggles to fill tech roles because of private sector competition, but new strategies set out to change that.
In the private sector, IT and cybersecurity recruiters have used hidden source code messages and other techniques to find candidates, too. Mozilla, for example, includes a dragon and an ad for its job openings in Mozilla.org's source code.
"It's important for the new Administration to take traditional and even non-traditional ways to recruit the best, most dedicated, diverse and brightest talent to help the government," said Brook Colangelo, Waters Corporation CIO and former White House CIO. "This use of code to help recruit is a great use of technology."
The Government Accountability Office has referenced skills gaps, including in IT, on its "high risk" list since 2001. As of the 2019 update, a majority of federal agencies lacked a plan to address IT workforce needs.
Founded in the wake of the HealthCare.gov crash, USDS is an agency of technologists working to improve digital services. And the Biden administration buys into their mission; the president's COVID-19 recovery plan includes $200 million for the IT Oversight and Reform Fund to hire "hundreds of experts" to support the federal CISO and USDS.
Plus, in the wake of the SolarWinds hack, improving federal technology will be critical to cybersecurity. Biden included modernizing federal IT to protect against future cyberattacks in a statement last week.
"Technology will be critical for the administration and USDS is a powerful team that benefits many parts of the government," Colangelo said