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FCW : June 15, 2014
all the answers. Instead, the initiatives represent healthy and constructive efforts to tap the "community com- mons" for fresh ideas and thinking. New guard needs the old guard But some of those efforts, at least as currently constructed or articulated, are more illustrative of the disconnect described earlier. For example, the State Department has a little-known effort to directly link embassies and consulates with tech startups that have capabilities rele- vant to their needs. Loosely tied to the Obama administration s Startup Amer- ica program, which sought to facilitate connections between tech startups and Fortune 500 companies, this brainchild of tech entrepreneur Rebecca Taylor sounds, at least at rst blush, like a great idea. But there s a fundamental problem with the concept. It presumes that only tech startups --- indeed, only those aware of and connected to this closed marketplace --- have ideas that might help embassies and consulates. It effectively picks winners and losers in advance and creates a closed system at the very time the focus should be on expanding and improving the broader marketplace. In that sense it also runs directly counter to the market-focused premise of Startup America. Although no data is apparently avail- able to assess the relative success of the initiative, the inherent presumption is that current, "traditional" companies --- the old guard --- have nothing to offer. In addition, as Taylor herself has articulated, it is intentionally designed to get around the barriers created by the federal acquisition system. Similarly, based on the same pre- sumption, the General Services Admin- istration s new 18F project describes itself as a government startup that will directly deliver to federal agencies digi- tal solutions that "tackle the toughest problems in government." Building on the success of the Presidential Innova- tion Fellows program, 18F will hire 50 to 200 "world-class coders" to work at GSA s headquarters in Washington, at its of ces in San Francisco and perhaps elsewhere. Here, too, this sounds like a great idea; who could be opposed to put- ting some of the best and brightest to work on behalf of the government? But whether 18F can drive real innovation as opposed to isolated, incremental improvement remains a significant question. After all, 18F is self-contained and intentionally constructed outside the federal acquisition system, and absent any competitive pressures. In fact, 18F s goal is to deliver, on a sole-source basis, direct service to its agency customers. Make no mistake about it: The fed- eral acquisition system is often calci- ed and inef cient, and it is in need of signi cant improvement. Hence, frus- tration with it runs high. But rather than improve the system to facilitate new ways of doing business and drive real change, 18F is designed to skirt the system altogether. In the end, although a handful of 18F customers might bene t from the occasional creative application or new digital capability, it is hard to see how the program will lead to real, sustain- able innovation. After all, the mere presence of dis- ruption, which 18F s approach repre- sents, does not automatically lead to innovation. As noted earlier, real inno- vation requires more than a disruptive idea or application. Innovation comes when that disruptive idea or capability can be scaled in a way that is replica- ble and leads to fundamental change in how work is performed to gener- ate improved and less expensive out- comes. As currently constructed, 18F Acquisition 18 June 15, 2014 FCW.COM The narrative hammered home after the HealthCare.gov rollout was that "old guard" contractors --- like CGI Federal's Cheryl Campbell, Optum/ QSSI's Andrew Slavitt, Equifax Workforce Solutions' Lynn Spellecy and Serco's John Lau, above --- botched the job, while an innovative "trauma team" assembled by Jeffrey Zients, left, saved the day. The reality, Stan Soloway argues, is not nearly so simple.
June 30, 2014
July 15, 2014