Person

Matt Cutts

Occupation:

Administrator, U.S. Digital Service (USDS)

Matt Cutts is the administrator of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a subordinate government agency of the Executive Office of the President that is tasked with improving federal website products. An Obama appointee (and, according to reports, a registered Independent [1]) who stayed on during the Trump administration, Cutts’ work focuses on creating technological solutions to the federal government’s outdated web and other services upon which veterans, immigrants, public assistance recipients, retirees, and others rely. [2]

Cutts came to the federal government after nearly 17 years at Google. He was the technology giant’s 71st employee and has a reported net worth in the tens of millions of dollars. [3] He has been, and his late wife was, a major donor to left-leaning political transparency and funding organizations as well as non-partisan educational groups. [4]

Personal Life

Cutts attended the University of North Carolina for his undergraduate degree and the University of Kentucky for his Master’s degree. [5] He was in a Ph.D. program for computer graphics-related work when he was offered a job with Google. [6]

Cutts was married in 2000; his wife Cindy died unexpectedly from pneumonia in 2018. [7][8][9]

Google

Cutts started with Google in January 2000. One of his first assignments was to write Google’s first-generation family-friendly search filter, “Safe Search.” This project introduced him to the threat of online spamming, and led to him becoming the head of web spam and a distinguished engineer at Google. [10]

Cutts started in Google’s ad department then went into quality control. From 2004 until 2015, he ran the spam prevention department, which he also founded. He has been an influential leader in the technology space throughout and after his time at Google; a Wall Street Journal reporter referred to him as being “to search results what [former Federal Reserve Board chairman] Alan Greenspan was to interest rates.” [11]

While at Google, Cutts founded a blog which was widely read by industry professionals. [12]  He was also regularly cited about Google and other tech issues, and was frequently a company spokesperson about search engine optimization (SEO) issues to the media and businesses. [13] For example, Google’s official spokesperson issued a statement after Google downgraded its Chrome browser search prominence after the browser was found to have high SEO placement in violation of Google’s ranking rules. Cutts issued a separate statement which was prominently cited. [14]  Cutts was also regularly featured in Google Help videos. [15]

In 2014, Cutts took a leave of absence from Google to spend time with his wife. [16] That leave left him the freedom to start with the U.S. Digital Service, a three-month stint which turned into a years-long series of positions. [17]

U.S. Digital Service

Cutts started his public service with a three-month trip to Afghanistan, where he upgraded systems used to keep military personnel abreast of the situation on the ground. He was appointed director of engineering at the U.S. Digital Service shortly before President Barack Obama left office. [18] He was officially named USDS administrator in October 2018, after the Trump White House changed the nature of the administrator position from a political appointee position to a two-year non-partisan civil service position. [19]

The USDS was created by the Obama administration after the debacle which surrounded the launch of Healthcare.gov in 2013 to modernize the federal government’s use of technology for a wide variety of services, from veteran care to immigration applications to public assistance programs. The agency is officially under the purview of the Office of Management and Budget, though its staff are also placed in a number of other federal agencies which are not inside the White House apparatus. [20]

Cutts has said publicly that recruiting staff is his biggest challenge as USDS administrator. [21] About 20 percent of the agency’s approximately 175-person staff left when President Donald Trump took office. Cutts heavily recruits from highly-paid, California-based Silicon Valley technology experts whose work with USDS requires a cross-country move and a reduction in pay. [22]

Cutts told the Washingtonian in 2018 that the USDS saves taxpayers money by finding efficient technology solutions to various challenges. [23] He praised Trump’s 2017 Executive Order creating the American Technology Council, at which the USDS has a seat. The Council will exist for four years. [24]

One of USDS’s accomplishments was overhauling, centralizing, and upgrading online services provided to veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs and USDS created a benefits appeal website which was more dependable and serviceable. [25] The agency also created a “one-stop shop” website, Vets.gov, which Cutts said allowed veterans greater access to their health benefits. Previously, veterans had “to navigate over 500 different websites, over a thousand different toll-free numbers,” said Cutts. As of July 2018, Cutts and the USDS were considering merging many of the new site’s information onto www.VA.gov because the latter site is popular among veterans. [26] [27]

Cutts was named to Federal Computer Week’s Top 100 federal-sector information technology list in 2019. [28]

Political Donations

Cutts has donated significant money to left-of-center groups which support government financing of election campaigns. In 2014, he donated $295,000 to Friends of Democracy, a super PAC which supports publicly-funded political campaigns. That donation made him the fifth-biggest donor in the technology sector that year. [29] He donated to the group in other years, as well. [30] [31] Friends of Democracy PAC was founded by liberal financier George Soros’s son Jonathan. [32]

He donated to Change Congress, a group founded, and later disbanded, by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig to create government-funded elections. [33] Lessig later founded Mayday PAC to push for publicly-financed elections and make other funding transparency concerns, to which Cutts was a significant early donor. Mayday PAC was launched with significant attention but few results in 2014. [34] [35]

Other donations include, but are not limited to[36]:

$50,000 to Every Voice, a liberal campaign speech restriction group that was created through a merger of Friends of Democracy and Public Action Campaign Fund, in 2014. [37]

  • $6,500 to the election campaigns of President Barack Obama.
  • $5,000 to Lessig’s brief White House run. [38]

  • A number of small donations to Democratic candidates and committees; and
  • $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee.
  • The Cutts Foundation

    Cutts and his wife created a foundation, which transitioned its funds to a donor-advised fund, under their name. [39] The Cutts Foundation no longer exists; donations were made to a variety of groups. Much like the Cutts’ personal donations, politically-oriented funding tended to focus on left-leaning, government groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation, and Change Congress. Educational groups such as Khan Academy and Room to Read were also funded. The Cutts received no income from the Foundation. [40]

    In 2011, the Foundation raised almost $382,000 and spent almost $179,000. [41] Its largest donation that year was $50,000; it was given to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley.

    References

    1. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    2. U.S. Digital Service, Our Mission. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.usds.gov/mission ^
    3. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    4. Matt Cutts, “Disclosure,” October 05, 2009. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/disclosure/ ^
    5. LinkedIn, Matt Cutts profile, Accessed February 23, 2020.

      https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattcutts ^

    6. Kara Swisher, “Full Transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode,” July 20, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/12/17561856/transcript-matt-cutts-us-digital-service-washington-government-service-recode-decode ^
    7. Matt Cutts, “On leave,” July 03, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/on-leave/  ^
    8. Matt Cutts, “Some terrible personal news,” March 07, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/cindy-cutts/ ^
    9. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    10. Kara Swisher, “Full Transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode,” July 20, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/12/17561856/transcript-matt-cutts-us-digital-service-washington-government-service-recode-decode ^
    11. Lee Gomes, “Readers react to ‘SEO’ contest,” February 16, 2006. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB114011996111576173?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB114011996111576173.html ^
    12. Matt Cutts, “All the Fitbit activity badges,” October 20, 2019. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ ^
    13. Tom Foremski, “Google’s embattled Webspam Chief Matt Cutts is taking a ‘few months’ off,” July 04, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.zdnet.com/article/googles-embattled-webspam-chief-matt-cutts-is-taking-a-few-months-off/ ^
    14. Charles Arthur, “Google shoves Chrome down search rankings after sponsored blog mixup,” January 04, 2012. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/jan/04/google-chrome-browser-search-rankings?newsfeed=true ^
    15. Chris Crum, “Matt Cutts talks keyword density,” December 19, 2011. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.webpronews.com/matt-cutts-talks-keyword-density ^
    16. Matt Cutts, “On leave,” July 03, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/on-leave/ ^
    17. Matt Cutts, “Staying with the US Digital Service,” January 18, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/join-the-us-digital-service/ ^
    18. Steven Levy, “The final days of Obama’s tech surge,” November 09, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.wired.com/2017/01/the-final-days-of-obamas-tech-surge/#.vmjdwbyux ^
    19. Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, “Matt Cutts gets the official nod for top spot at USDS,” October 22, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.fedscoop.com/matt-cutts-gets-official-nod-top-spot-usds/ ^
    20. Kara Swisher, “Full Transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode,” July 20, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/12/17561856/transcript-matt-cutts-us-digital-service-washington-government-service-recode-decode ^
    21. Kara Swisher, “Full Transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode,” July 20, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/12/17561856/transcript-matt-cutts-us-digital-service-washington-government-service-recode-decode ^
    22. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    23. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    24. Matt Cutts, “Better digital services in government,” May 03, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://medium.com/the-u-s-digital-service/come-help-modernize-government-technology-9e7cd99c6a7b ^
    25. MeriTalk, VA, USDS Launch New Tool for Veterans, April 09, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.meritalk.com/articles/va-usds-launch-new-tool-for-veterans/ ^
    26. Kara Swisher, “Full Transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode,” July 20, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/12/17561856/transcript-matt-cutts-us-digital-service-washington-government-service-recode-decode ^
    27. Devin Coldewey, “Matt Cutts on solving big problems with lean solutions at the US Digital Service,” April 12, 2019. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/matt-cutts-on-solving-big-problems-with-lean-solutions-at-the-us-digital-service/ ^
    28. FCW, The 2019 Federal 100, March 21, 2019. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://fcw.com/articles/2019/03/21/2019-fed-100-main-page.aspx ^
    29. Romesh Ratnesar, “Meet the Obama appointee the Trump administration loves,” October 21, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/10/21/meet-matt-cutts-the-obama-appointee-the-trump-administration-loves/ ^
    30. Center for Responsive Politics, Donor Lookup. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?cand=&cycle=&employ=google&name=matt+cutts&order=desc&sort=D&state= ^
    31. Keenan Steiner, “Anti-super PAC super PAC gets big money from Silicon Valley,” July 26, 2013. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://sunlightfoundation.com/2013/07/26/anti-super-pac-super-pac-gets-big-money-silicon-valley/ ^
    32. David Freedlander, “The PAC to end all PACs,” March 27, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/jonathan-soros-the-pac-to-end-all-pacs-105123 ^
    33. Craig Newmark, “The ‘Change Congress Project’ with Larry Lessig, Sunlight Foundation, and Omidyar Network,” March 20, 2008. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-change-congress-proje_b_92511 ^
    34. Byron Tau and Kenneth P. Vogel, “How to waste $10 million,” November 06, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/2014-elections-mayday-pac-larry-lessig-112617 ^
    35. Peter Olsen-Phillips, “Mayday PAC sheds light on largest donors,” August 06, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://sunlightfoundation.com/2014/08/06/mayday-pac-sheds-light-on-largest-donors/ ^
    36. Center for Responsive Politics, Donor Lookup. Accessed February 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?cand=&cycle=&employ=google&name=matt+cutts&order=desc&sort=D&state= ^
    37. Robert Harding, “Every Voice, pro-campaign finance reform group, unveils two mailers targeting John Katko,” October 15, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2020.

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