Matt Cutts has taken on a tough task: luring highly skilled tech workers from their mecca in Silicon Valley to the political battleground of Washington, D.C.
The former Google engineer heads the U.S. Digital Service, a federal agency that grew out of the disastrous rollout of the Healthcare.gov website and is now charged with developing technology to improve federal government services and operations.
Cutts came to the Bay Area recently, seeking to entice product managers, engineers, designers and other tech experts at companies including Google and Apple to join him in the federal digital service. Sure, new recruits have to forsake the company cafeterias common at major tech firms, but there are other rewards, Cutts said.
"There's no free lunch in government, but there are other perks," Cutts said. "There's a bowling alley in the White House."
Beyond possible bowling opportunities, digital service jobs can pay up to $163,000 a year, he said. Median compensation for a software engineer in San Jose is $107,000, and $113,000 for a product manager, according to PayScale.
What Cutts is hoping will really attract high-performing tech workers is the sense of mission digital service positions confer, whether the job is streamlining the bureaucracies of Medicare and Medicaid, improving record-sharing between the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs, or designing ways to assess the impact of FEMA loans.
"You can make a living while you're doing good," Cutts said.
But the Bay Area recruiting drive comes at a time of long-simmering distrust between the traditionally left-leaning Bay Area, the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress. Supporters of the president often complain that tech companies like Google, for example, censor conservative views, while Trump's policies and actions have prompted Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to withdraw from the president's advisory councils.
In the digital service, about half of the current 180 employees are women, Cutts said. He wants to hire 50 more people, with workers to be embedded in other federal agencies — potentially including the Treasury Department.
Potential hires must be able to start within six months and commit to at least six months with the digital service, which works out of a townhouse near the White House, Cutts said.
The White House could make Cutts' recruiting work a challenge, said Stanford University business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer.
"Government jobs are being demonized by many political figures," he said. "The president and cabinet secretaries show, in general, little respect for or appreciation of the people working hard for their government. Who wants to work for a place that, in many ways, signals it does not value them or appreciate their service?"
Everyone in America should wish the digital service good luck in its recruiting, said Terri Griffith, a Santa Clara University business professor. "All of us are touched by the work that the U.S. government does," she said. "I certainly like my government to work better and more efficiently. The inefficiencies cost us all a lot."