IT services

GSA launches 'digital incubator'

Placeholder Image for Article Template

The federal government is rebooting its approach to building online services.

A new program dubbed 18F will try to graft the DNA of a high-tech startup onto the cumbersome machinery of government. Housed at the General Services Administration, 18F will be home to a team of developers who will build Web services for government agencies, prototypes for projects and tools that can be reused across government.

18F will be staffed by GSA's digital delivery team and Presidential Innovation Fellows.

"This service delivery program will make GSA the home of the government's digital incubator," GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a statement. "By using lessons from our nation's top technology startups, these public service innovators will be able to provide cutting-edge support for our federal partners that reduces cost and improves service."

18F is the latest in a series of IT development reforms being pushed by the Obama administration in the wake of the botched launch of HealthCare.gov in October. It's of a piece with the new cross-agency performance goal to improve the delivery of IT services and can be seen as a new front in the battle to get agencies to adopt the rapid prototyping and iterative design methodology of agile development. 18F is also going to be a hub of open-source software solutions and is posting its own internal site development code on GitHub.

The move tracks with draft legislation being written by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) that would give the U.S. chief technology officer responsibility for streamlining IT procurement and create an office that would be required to participate in the development of large-scale federal websites.

Connolly said in an email message to FCW that 18F embodies key principles contained in the Eshoo-Connolly proposal and "reflects our belief that a digital government office comprised of talented designers and developers can serve as a catalyst for modernizing government IT to be customer focused, iterative in nature and open to all."

In one significant difference from the legislative draft, 18F is an opt-in service, not a supervising authority.

Federal agencies can ask 18F to build public-facing websites for them, use it as a kind of consultancy or contract shop for needed expertise, or tap it as a resource for advice on what to build or buy. Agencies will pay for 18F services or for the time of embedded employees the way they reimburse GSA for other services.

The 18F team reports to Dave McClure, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. It has 15 full-time employees, with room under the fiscal 2014 budget to grow to 65. Agencies are under no obligation to take their public-facing Web projects to 18F, and a GSA spokesperson told FCW that there are no plans at this time to have 18F review large-scale online services like HealthCare.gov while they are in development.

"The cost of building and delivering technology through 18F is expected to be significantly lower and less time-consuming than through traditional procurement due to use of lean startup practices, open-source software and tools, and agile development methods that are proven to deliver successful technology outcomes in shorter time frames," a GSA spokesperson told FCW via email.

Former Presidential Innovation Fellow Clay Johnson, a vocal critic of federal IT contracting practices, was optimistic about the news.

"18F has an opportunity to convince federal agencies to move away from the glacial, monolithic enterprise IT approaches of yesterday," he wrote in a blog post. "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."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group