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FCW : June 15, 2014
Acquisition needs, particularly as we think about the future of acquisition. To do less could mean settling for minor, isolated improvements at the expense of real innovation and change. If we want real innovation and a government that has access to the full array of capabilities that create both disruption and sustainable change, then we need to overcome this divide and work together to improve the system. Assuming that one sector or another can go it alone is na ve. Instead, our collective objective should be to cre- ate a modern, competitive marketplace that doesn t presume winners or losers and doesn t assume outcomes. Instead, the proof will be in the performance, regardless of the performer. Some old-guard players might not succeed in that space while others will perform magni cently. And given the high failure rate of tech startups, the same will be true for the new guard. But who is the government to decide the winners in advance? Why would it even want to? ■ Stan Soloway is president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. BY LENA TRUDEAU When I was invited to provide an 18F perspective on the above commentary, I was honored. Stan Soloway has long been an advocate of meaningful, sustainable improve- ment in the public sector, and he has worked tirelessly to that end from both public- and private-sector posi- tions. I must, however, take issue with some of his arguments. One line puts a very ne point on Soloway s position. He writes that "rather than improve the system to facilitate new ways of doing business and drive real systemic change, 18F is designed to skirt the system altogether." In fact, 18F s stated purpose is to establish and scale successful models for procuring, building and delivering incredible, easy-to-use digital services to the people and businesses government serves. Facilitating new ways of doing business is one of our primary objectives. And as someone who navigates the bureaucracy on a daily basis, I can say with certainty that 18F is not designed to skirt the system --- quite the opposite. Our mandate is to address challenges in the current system head on. Because we re practitioners, we can address changes to policy, process and practice with the knowledge gained by working on the front lines of delivery. Soloway asks how 18F would fare under the same policies and processes to which others must adhere. 18F complies with all laws, rules, and policies that govern digi- tal product and service development and delivery in the federal govern- ment. We also face constraints that the private sector does not. For example, public engagement, salaries and hiring are all highly regulated. I don t think that s what Soloway is getting at, though. When distilled, his argument entails two chief con- cerns: 1) 18F competes unfairly with the private sector and 2) we assume the "old guard" (his words) of tradi- tional vendors has little to offer. To be clear, 18F is not competing with the private sector. There has always been a role for in-house technologists in government. In an era in which technology holds such promise for greater ef ciency and effectiveness, it is more important than ever for government to have the technical expertise required to make sound, objective policy and operational decisions. 18F is building capacity in gov- ernment by showing what s possible when we apply known best prac- tices consistently and share what we ve built and what we ve learned for the bene t of all. (Note: "All" includes the private sector.) We focus on user needs, develop in the open, and use lean principles and agile methodologies. We work with agencies to quickly deploy working prototypes and iterate rapidly based on customer feedback and analytics. By leveraging experimentation, we achieve results quickly and at low cost. We also design for reuse. These are not new approaches, as the Silicon Valleys, Alleys and Prairies --- and the readers of FCW --- are well aware. And it should be noted that these tools and meth- odologies are already being used in government, too, but they are not yet the standard. Building and scaling technical capacity will help the procurement process. For evidence of this, look to our recent release of FBOpen, a simple API that businesses can use to nd opportunities to work with the federal government (for more, see http://is.gd/FCW_FBOpen). The work we are doing will also lead to the creation of better state- ments of work. By prototyping and conducting user testing at the earli- est stages, we ll be able to conduct procurements against clearer, more accurate requirements. Ultimately, we believe our efforts will create greater opportunities for vendors to work in true partnership with talented government staff. As to Soloway s second point, I have talked to many people in the private sector who believe our work will create opportunity for both new and long-standing contractors to bring more innovation to govern- ment. And, no, we have not made any broad assumptions about "tradi- tional" vendors. Have we seen situations in which large, complex and costly technology projects have yielded poor results? Yes. But we ve also seen some of the "old guard" adopt- ing and promoting new tool sets and approaches, to great effect. This year, federal agencies will spend $80 billion procuring technology support from the private sector. That spending will be increasingly directed toward companies that are embracing the transition to digital government. Our nation s people and busi- nesses are eager for us to engage with them, and nd new and better ways to deliver information and services. And our ability to deliver is central to rebuilding the trust of Americans in their government. Stan, we are joined in the same cause. ■ Lena Trudeau is associate commis- sioner of the Of ce of Strategic Innovations at the General Services Administration. What 18F aims to accomplish 20 June 15, 2014 FCW.COM ZAID HAMID
June 30, 2014
July 15, 2014