Commenting on the ‘new’ government digital service and TechFAR.
Great article here: New US Digital Service Looks to Avoid IT Catastrophes
Discussion by Gunner: US Digital Service is Born
Steve Kelman, FCW: The REAL regulatory challenge of agile development
This simply isn't bold enough. This effort simply try’s to fix whats broken instead of looking more deeply at why its broken and how to ‘reformat’ the way IT services are built and most importantly used by the government and citizens.
The Service and TechFAR is akin to what the military seems to plan for: planning and building systems to fix yesterdays battles instead of really and deeply thunking for the future.
UK: the UK gov digital service worked because its much, much smaller than our government (think California), two the UK gov is setup very differently than our government bureaucracy. The UK digital service reports directly to the PM and as I understand it, really could walk into any UK Agency (save MoD) and demand changes + take over projects. Also in a Parliamentary system, what the PM says goes, no discussing with Parliament, arguing over budgets, etc. a number of projects get killed pretty fast when there is a gov changeover.
The US has neither.
GSA is a pretty widely ignored Agency (for a number of historical reasons), maybe this time it will be different, I’m sure they can help web pages load faster. But the Digital service is going to report a few levels down from POTUS and the head of GSA, both of which have many other things on their plate.
Also US Agencies have two masters they play pretty well off each other, Congress and the Pres. Scale: the gov is friggin huge. Also some government systems have very unique and multiple functions for only one customer (the Gov + citizens). Fixing FAA and SSA isn’t a few agile sprints over pizza and Dew.
Instead of fixing past problems, we need deeper thinking about HOW and WHY the government should provide services.
- The government no longer runs motor pools, it outsources the entire job to companies with specific service levels and agreements (SLA).
- Failed example: SABRE (the airline reservation company) came to DoD and pitched the idea that they would take care of all military travel for something like $60 a ticket. Some govvies pitched they could do it cheaper, they tried and build a disaster of a service ++ Defense Travel continues to eat funds way above and beyond. And continues to frustrate and strand military travelers overseas.
There are many more, but the basic take away is this: the government must not recreate services the private sector does cheaper, better and faster unless its part of its' core mission.
- Bombs, check - part of core military mission.
- HR? (outside of the military and CIA), the government should license or buy as a service HR capabilities.
- Websites? I’m having a tough time with this. If the government could come up with a list of requirements and define a serious set of SLAs, they are any number of companies who would gladly offer website as a service, with the government managing the input.
- IRS systems: parts of it could defiantly be outsourced, especially all of fraud monitoring.
One last point:
YAR - yet another review, I don’t see how another YAR by the Digital Service is going to add to government agility and flexibility. Make no mistake, the gov is setup with a number of very expensive and time consuming YARs already, each which must be planned for and dumbed down to senior management.
TechFAR inculcates YAR + yet another ref doc to read, that won’t apply to any Agency that doesn’t adopt it.
Many of these suggestions sound good for a few projects, but crumple and slow down system creation when scaled to 1000s of project in an $80 billion portfolio.
Some question to ask as the Gov builds systems:
1. Is the thing your Agency needs to develop a core competency?
2. if not, define how to buy it as a fixed price service offering w/ a tight SLA
3. if yes, first start developing small + draft off of any existing efforts (open source software, or other state, local, international gov’s) ++ be open to the outside
- stop fixing current problems with past thinking
- stop telling industry how to suck the egg (i.e., stop dictating to industry what methods to use to develop technologies, CMMI was great for adding bodies - thanks for the revenue, is Agile really the endpoint of development methods? Lets not hard code something (again) into how the gov does procurement)
- automate eixsting jobs, rethink how the work gets done (IRS a body shop)
- automate existing process and rethink if you need them at all
- Start to collapse Agencies and processes. Does every Dept and Agency really need a CIO and associated staff?
- What things could Agencies outsource to each other (like paychecks that Dept of Ag does for smaller Agencies)