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The new dream team: The U.S. Digital Service [editorial]

The US Digital Service is rebuilding vast swaths of government social media platforms that quite plainly just didn’t make a lot of sense and weren’t helping the people that needed it the most.

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Do you know what Uncle Sam’s up to?

The U.S. Digital Service team. Think of them as digital stealth drones: They come in, they get the job done and they get out. Then on to the next job. Unheralded but leaving a lasting impact. They are you and me.

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The USDS is rebuilding vast swaths of government social media platforms that quite plainly just didn’t make a lot of sense and weren’t helping the people that needed it the most. Good on the US government for figuring out that this flat tire needed fixing.

All about teamwork

Says the Obama administration, “The core work of the U.S. Digital Service is done in agency teams, where small groups of developers, designers, and product leads work with dedicated public servants to dramatically improve the government’s most impactful services.”

In 2015, the US Digital Team recruited its founding members of a new set of agency teams to work on a large number of critical services. The first being a total makeover of the Healthcare.gov website. That done, the team shifted gear to the Veteran’s Administration and a host of other projects. Along the way the US Digital Team began actively recruiting new members. A search that continues to this day.

Do you have what it takes?

The year 2015 saw intense recruiting taking place but it was recruiting with a difference: This wasn’t for some misconceived government couch job meant to be wrapped around an entire career. According to Mike Dickerson, Chief Administrator of the USDS, he was upfront in telling prospective candidates, “Don’t come here if you’re looking for a fun, easy thing to do, if you think you’re going to make a lot of money, if you think it’s going to advance your interest in some particular way. Come because there’s work to be done that can impact millions of people.”

You’d think that approach was scare people away, but a funny thing happened as a result of Dickerson’s aggressive recruitment pitch: Even MORE people applied.

In a Backchannel interview, Dickerson pointed out, “The active ingredient I think is we are relentless about trying to hang onto the ruthless mission focus here. We are built for short term appointments. We’re not building a permanent piece of bureaucracy.”

Think you have what it takes? Then click here and saddle up for an exciting ride. In the meantime, the US Digital Service team is redefining the US government’s digital imprint. I mean, what good is it if no one understands the message? Adds Dickerson, “The work of the [talent pool] that we’re pulling in from across the country will actually have a chance to influence and change the way the government is operated.

I love it. What a concept.

#USDS

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Business News

The final nail has been put in the Jet.com coffin by Walmart

(BUSINESS NEWS) Walmart is shutting down their main Amazon competing idea, Jet.com didn’t meet Walmart’s expectations even with COVID ramping up home deliveries.

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jet.com walmart

Walmart announced it will discontinue Jet.com, its online-only marketplace, after a poor showing in their Q1 earnings report. Once promising to tackle Amazon competition head-on, Walmart acquired Jet for $3 billion in 2016 and championed its potential to strengthen company e-commerce. Last year, Walmart saw a $2 billion loss in the division despite the efforts to compete as a digital-facing store.

The earnings report showed Jet.com saw a growth of less than 10% in its main US market. Thus, Walmart will withdraw guidance entering the 2021 fiscal year. Jet.com has seen its fair share of trials since Walmart took over and has faced multiple reorganizing attempts such as the full integration of Jet’s teams into Walmart’s, the shutdown of experimental shopping service, Jet black, and a site relaunch.

Although consumers are turning to online shopping and deliveries in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, digital marketplaces face their own challenges in a changing retail landscape. Intuitively, e-commerce should be thriving, however, the pandemic has increased overhead costs for companies like Ebay and Amazon. This is setting aside what the broader effects may follow in the wake of a collapsing economy.

A statement by CFO Brett Briggs highlighted these broader concerns and the decision to remove guidance from Jet.com. “The decision to withdraw guidance reflects significant uncertainty around several key external variables and their potential impact on our business and the global economy, including: the duration and intensity of the COVID- 19 health crisis globally, the length and impact of stay-at-home orders, the scale and duration of economic stimulus, employment trends and consumer confidence,” he noted. “Our business fundamentals are strong, and our financial position is excellent. Customers trust us to deliver on our brand promise, and I’m confident in our ability to perform well in most any environment. While the short-term environment will be challenging, we’re positioned well for long-term success in an increasingly omni world.”

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Business News

Amazon may take advantage of COVID-19 decimated AMC and acquire them

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is eyeing AMC as a possible purchase because of the how COVID-19 has affect theaters, but some worry that the industry won’t bounce back.

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AMC empty

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. increased 56% (to $6.41) after reportedly in talks with Amazon regarding a potential takeover. The report, made by U.K.’s Daily Mail, is yet to receive confirmation by other company. However, the market has clearly responded to the spicy rumor. If seriously considered, the move could easily solidify Amazon’s ambitions to compete with major Hollywood studios by creating another avenue for their movies and television series.

Chinese real estate billionaire Wang Jianlin acquired AMC in 2012 for $2.6 billion as part of his conglomerate, Wanda Group’s expansion into the entertainment realm. AMC shares rose 12% to a two-month high this week after the reported talks with Amazon. However, it’s been far from sunshine and rainbows for AMC. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the company hard. In mid-April, their stock was down 70% year to date. Past reports have also speculated the when AMC may announce bankruptcy rather than if.

Last month’s straight-to-streaming release of “Trolls World Tour” offers a glimpse of the entertainment market in a post-COVID world. The movie’s success offers a glimpse of an future where physical theaters are obsolete. Taking x-amount of months of social distancing into account and Amazon’s takeover makes less sense.

Amazon has carved out space on the streaming market over the past several years with Prime originals like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag having racked up Emmy awards. With other great shows like Undone, Bosch, and their recent grab of The Expanse, along with new shows like Upload I would say Amazon knows a thing or two about good content.

Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley FBR wrote this week that since AMC is projected to see its fourth consecutive year of stock declines, the company wouldn’t appeal from an investor standpoint. If the acquisition talks are active, a cash offer for AMC is more likely.

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Business News

One big brand got $10M in PPP funding, refuses to return it

(BUSINESS NEWS) Quantum has been asked to give back its $10 million portion of the PPP loans given out, but they refuse. As if small businesses have it hard enough.

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Quantum burning ppp loan

Quantum, a data storage company, is getting pressured by Congress to return its loan from the federal Payment Protection Program, however, the company is refusing to back down and announced it is keeping the money.

Last week a House panel asked five public companies, including Quantum, to return their loans immediately. All five companies received $10 million from the program. Quantum told CBS MoneyWatch they intend to respond to lawmakers but will be keeping the funding. They are required to explain in writing why they are still eligible for the PPP loan and submit supporting documents by Friday, May 15th.

Likewise, banks have come under criticism for prioritizing PPP loan approvals for larger companies rather than small businesses where they were intended to offer much-needed aid. The program offers low-interest, government-funded loans, targeting businesses with 500 or fewer employees. The best part is the loans can be forgiven if businesses keep their workers and use those funds towards payroll. Larger public companies have jumped on the opportunity while the local mom-and-pop shops are unable to receive the highly-sought after loans before funds run out.

The congressional committee wrote in a letter to Quantum that the company currently employs 800 workers and has the option to raise funds from investors. Quantum’s largest shareholder is B. Riley Capital Management, an investment fund valued at $500 million owning 21% of company shares. As of May 11th, Quantum’s market capitalization was $173 million.

In a statement by a Quantum spokesperson, the company said “Quantum believes it owes a duty to its American employees who would lose their jobs if Quantum returned its PPP loan to demonstrate why Quantum not only falls within the technical eligibility requirements of the PPP loan program, but also falls squarely within the spirit of what was intended by the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act].”

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