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FCW : May 30, 2015
STEVE KELMAN is professor of public management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Of ce of Federal Procurement Policy. Commentary | STEVE KELMAN With both Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visiting Sili- con Valley in April, there has been a fair bit of attention paid to the national security world's attempts to better tap the innovative energy of U.S. high-tech companies. Yet there are so many challenges to making such a relationship a reality that any sober-minded person might conclude it is a non- starter and shouldn't even be tried. Silicon Valley is mostly indif- ferent to government. And to the extent that people might care, most people there are more privacy-oriented and more likely to sympathize with Edward Snowden than with the National Security Agency. And, of course, salaries in Sili- con Valley dwarf those in Washing- ton, and the work environment is much more casual. So rst a case must be made that the government --- and the Defense Department in particular --- needs Silicon Valley. My good friend Alan Balutis, a longtime fed now working for Cisco, wrote recently that "the reality is that if you open up the way you run the procurements, any of the big sys- tems integrators or service provid- ers or medium-sized rms [along] the Beltway would be every bit as innovative and cutting edge and agile as any other rm elsewhere in the world." If that's true, then the push to engage Silicon Valley isn't worth it because the probability of failure is too great and the bene ts are overstated. But I don't think Alan is right in this case. Although there are many innovative individuals at the big federal contractors, the relative lack of innovation from those com- panies involves a history longer and deeper than just the procure- ment system. It involves the whole govern- ment environment, which does not often value risk-taking, and the selective recruitment over time of people into contractor jobs that grow out of that environment. Silicon Valley's record of innova- tion is so superior to that of gov- ernment contractors that it's not going to be possible to overcome that gap in the short or perhaps even the medium term. The federal contractor world, at a minimum, needs to be shaken up by competition from those outside it. Yet if a marriage between the government and Silicon Valley is unlikely, is there any chance for at least a few dates? I think there might be. First, procurement contests to solve government tech prob- lems are a way to both avoid the dysfunctions of federal procure- ment and attract new players from the private and public sectors. Prizes could be a source of startup capital for young entrepreneurs, who might even use the ideas they develop to start a business. Second, the millennial gen- eration is notable for its lack of cynicism and positive view toward helping others. Little of that, sadly, now gets expressed in the form of a desire for public service in government. But when Johnson asked Valleyites to "consider a tour of service to your country," he was on the right track. Govern- ment service will not appeal to all of them by any means, but it could resonate with some. After all, it is amazing how many Valley types the administration has talked into doing a stint in govern- ment service lately. There ought to be a concerted effort to involve the Silicon Valley crowd currently in Washington in a discussion of how best to craft an appeal to attract at least a subculture of public service- oriented techies. Such recruits might serve the government as contractors only sporadically or work inside govern- ment only temporarily, but that's much better than their being on the outside altogether. n DOD and Silicon Valley: A marriage made in hell? The differences are irreconcilable, but government should still be looking for at least a few ings The federal contractor world, at a minimum, needs to be shaken up by competition from those outside it. 16 May 30, 2015 FCW.COM
May 15, 2015
June 15, 2015