United States Digital Service: How “Obama’s Startup” Harnesses Disruption and Productive Failure to Reboot Government

Stephanie Ricker Schulte


This article tracks the culture of start-ups as it entered government through the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a new agency and self-described White House “start-up” designed to rewrite the government’s digital presence. This critical discourse analysis traces the cultural history of the start-up, showing how and why it became an American ideal and icon of American power. This explains how and why the start-up became a cultural infrastructure for the federal government and how it became a commonsense solution to both technological and civic problems and a model for “venture government.” This article concludes that ventures like USDS allowed the government to harness industry popularity, expertise, and credibility to tap venture capitalist modes of production and to capitalize on cultural associations with disruption and failure in the hopes of fortifying public trust in government. However, it also provided technology industry unprecedented influence in federal institutions for both better and worse.


United States Digital Service (USDS), technology industry, start-up, cultural infrastructure, productive failure, venture government, cultural history

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