Before the results of the presidential election were even finalised, Noah Kunin wrote a short blog post explaining why he would be staying at 18F, the United States Government’s internal tech “startup.”
“My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people (emphasis added),” wrote Kunin in the widely-read post.
Now, just about eight months later, Kunin has announced via a second blog post that he’s resigned his post in 18F, rather than be complicit in what he sees as the undermining of American democracy by the Trump administration.
The people with the matches are inside the house. The house is not burning down (this time) because it was struck by lightning, or the wiring was shoddy. It’s now on fire because the people in charge want to burn it down,” writes Kunin.
18F is a digital services agency within the federal General Services Administration. It began as an Obama-era program to build a “startup” to provide modern technology and apps to other government agencies. Kunin served as Infrastructure Director, leading work on 18F’s own underlying technology platforms, from 2014 through today.
Kunin cites two specific incidents as the cause for his unease: First, former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that President Trump asked for his personal loyalty; second, recent news that the role of commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service would become a position appointed by the White House, rather than filled by an executive.
“Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: Trump’s complete disregard of merit and his fetish with personal loyalty is becoming systemic and it is getting worse,” writes Kunin.
Pause for reflection
Kunin tells Business Insider that he doesn’t intend for the post to be taken as a call for a mass resignation of public servants. He just says that these recent events have caused him to rethink his role in government, and urges other public servants to take the time to do their own reflection.
“I don’t think that would be a fair take that it’s a broad call for mass resignation from the public service. I said as much in the post itself. These decisions are intensely personal, and subjective. The post is a call for public servants to ask the question of complicity of themselves, and the nature of their work. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
Still, he stands by the work that 18F did during his tenure, saying that the agency “made an incredible impact at a cost orders of magnitude less than what the government usually pays.” And he believes the program still has a bright future.
“18F absolutely has a future. In a government like ours, I think there will always be a role for an independent (separate from the White House and OMB) and centralised technology/design service,” says Kunin.
Now, he’s taking a break for the rest of the summer, with no plans for what’s next. Kunin does, however, say that there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference outside of the federal government.
Government at the state and local level needs just as much help, if not more, than the federal government. There’s also a tremendous amount of civic good that can be done outside of any government job,” says Kunin.” Regardless of how people are reacting to what’s going on in DC, that should not dissuade them from public service writ large.”