Earlier today, the General Services Administration launched 18F, a new digital office inside of the federal government. Judging from the make-up of the organization and their GitHub repos, they’re already off to a great start. These are talented people doing important work.
Is 18F a complete solution to the US government’s IT woes? No. But, like RFP-IT and FITARA, this new office is part of a broader strategy. Many of the issues government IT inititiaves face stem from a faulty risk mitigation strategy. The traditional assumption has been that by erecting barriers to entry for IT contractors, the only bets to be made are on safe known quantities. The evidence shows otherwise: by decreasing competition, you not only increase risk, you also get mediocre results.
The best way for government to mitigate IT project risk is to lower barriers to entry and increase competition, ensuring that potential contractors are transparently evaluated based on the merits of their work. We hope that 18F can position itself not only as a talented internal team, but also as a connection point between agencies and great developers in other sectors. 18F has an opportunity to convince federal agencies to move away from the glacial, monolithic enterprise IT approaches of yesterday. More than that, they can help to prove that small teams, inside and outside of government, can deliver high-quality technology products and services on time and under budget.
So, welcome 18F! You’re much needed and much appreciated.
Clay is the chairman and co-founder of The Department of Better Technology.