Hurry up and wait

Government is always trying to play catch-up with technology and Apps.gov's foray into cloud computing is no different

Government is always trying to play catch-up with technology. Though we live in the Technology Age, where innovation and commerce go hand in hand, government rarely plays either of those games with skill or confidence.

Now comes President Barack Obama, the embodiment of supreme self-confidence in the White House, and his pioneering chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, who’s clearly becoming the personification of innovation in government.

Kundra, with some fanfare, has just unveiled Apps.gov, a new electronic storefront where government agencies can shop for information technology. The idea is nothing new for anyone who’s got an account on Amazon.com or eBay — they’ve been around for how long now, 10 years? But for the federal government and its chief purchasing arm, the General Services Administration, Apps.gov is out there, just this side of science fiction.

That is a problem, reports our acquisition editor, Matthew Weigelt. In this week’s cover story, Matthew surveys a number of experts in government procurement who applaud Kundra’s initiative but question his timing. Indeed, the general consensus among these independent analysts is that Apps.gov was rushed to market.

It’s not that the market isn’t ready for it, which is often the case with so-called disruptive technologies that meet a need that no one yet realizes they have. In this case, Kundra has rightly identified a burning desire on both sides of the government purchasing circle — from buyers to sellers — for a more streamlined and efficient IT acquisition process.

In the case of Apps.gov, however, the bottleneck remains at the back end of the system. Kundra and company might be using gee-whiz technology to enable the impulse purchase, but they have yet to contend with a more intractable force of government procurement policies, or what one critic terms “the glacial pace of acquisition.” 

One of the yet-to-be-delivered promises of Apps.gov is a portal for buying into the cloud. Yet a number of government agencies are thinking not so much about buying cloud-computing services from outside contractors but about remaking their own data centers along those lines. Contributing editor Brian Robinson examines the key questions to consider before moving a data center to the cloud

Also in this issue, guest columnist Christopher Tucker gives a nod to Kundra’s dot-gov initiatives such as Apps.gov; Recovery.gov for tracking stimulus money; and Data.gov, which makes all kinds of government information available to people to mash up. But Tucker thinks there’s something missing there ... or here ... or wherever. He calls it Where.gov, a Web site where the government should deposit all kinds of geospatial data to let us know where our stuff is.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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Reader comments

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 John Weiler Alexandria, VA

Again, the problem is not with technology, its will the IT Acquisition process, the NIH culture and the lack of incentives to drive change. I can understand the impulse of many technologist to come back from a trade show or meeting with the high tech industry and want to bring in some new gadget, be it cloud computing, SOA or some other shiny object. We need these kinds of people to keep govt abreast of these innovations. However, giving PMs better method and teaching them "how to fish" will likely address the root causes of failure that waste some $40B in failed IT programs each year. If we could put a "Kundra" in each program, this might work, but this is not practical. The best and brightest are still working in the commercial sector. We must usher in commercial method and collaborative models that have already proven to work as required by the Clinger Cohen Act.

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