Editor's Note

The ABCs of 18F

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When the General Services Administration announced its in-house development startup a few weeks ago, it got people talking. And not all the chatter was positive.

The new IT venture, called 18F, folds in the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and embraces the principles of lean and agile development. With a few dozen employees at launch and plans to grow quickly in both D.C. and San Francisco, 18F aims to "prove that building technology in an agile manner is possible in government at scale."

The move was applauded in the commercial tech press and excited those who have been rooting for the PIFs. But even before the March 18 announcement, GSA officials started getting the calls -- and so did FCW. Industry leaders wanted to know why GSA would compete with the private sector for development and deployment work. Executives at other agencies worried that their expertise and investments in traditional IT were being devalued. One acquisition expert complained, "The PIFs are running amok!"

For the moment, though, count me among the cautiously optimistic.

To be clear: Agile development alone will not magically improve every project. And the challenge of truly changing the federal IT culture could make the HealthCare.gov rescue look like a picnic. But there are precedents that suggest an upside worth pursuing.

The United Kingdom has seen real benefits from its Government Digital Service -- a technology-and-strategy SWAT team of an agency that was created in 2011 and is essentially 18F on steroids. Closer to home, the proposal by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to create a technology team under the federal chief technology officer suggests at least some congressional support for 18F's mission.

At a more fundamental level, however, why not give 18F a try? There is so much work to be done -- so many projects that could use extra expertise and so many aspects of IT acquisition that could be improved. A team of 100 GSA techies won't be able to do it all. But if 18F buckles down and joins forces with the larger community, we might all come away with a clearer sense of how to make federal IT work better.

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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Reader comments

Wed, Apr 2, 2014

If GSA runs this IT 18F project like they do in taking care of our buildings we will be in for one hell of a ride. This buildings are falling apart with all the cheap labor and patch jobs they do. Some of this old buildings need to be torn down with all the abestos and lead paint they used in the 5o's and 60's. I see so many people getting sick all the time cause of this old building with there ventalation that needs updating, mold in the air and no telling what else. Sure they take readings but a what level is it safe, mold is mold, asbestos will never go away or lead either it absorbs into the building crevices and cement. Cement back then had asbestos in it too, so think about it. Our server rooms are closets with no ventalation or air condtioners to keep adequate temperatures, why have they not put that into there figures for IT, or give them adequate space to keep equipment or excess equipment that can be used for parts at times. Do you really want to go there with GSA, you are just putting more money in there pockets to go to more confrences and spend millions of dollars on parties.

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