When government is the innovator
It's a common refrain in federal IT: "If only the government could be more like the private sector."
If only agencies would be more agile. If only we could hire more Megan Smiths and Tony Scotts and Mikey Dickersons and DJ Patils. If only there were enough Presidential Innovation Fellows for every IT shop. If only...
The converse, meanwhile -- that steady stream of brain drain as talented feds take jobs in industry -- is dismissed as "cashing out" or simply smart people getting fed up with government.
It's worth remembering, however, that great things get started at both ends of the street. And there were two excellent examples of that in recent weeks.
First, there is Hyperion -- a malware detection and software assurance package developed by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory that outshines existing commercial solutions. R&K Cyber Solutions licensed Hyperion in January, and it was the second government cyber technology to go commercial via the Department of Homeland Security's Transition to Practice program.
Then there is Sqrrl, a big-data security startup that FCW flagged as a "hot company to watch" in 2013. The company was founded by former White House and National Security Agency officials, and a few weeks ago it launched Sqrrl Enterprise 2.0 -- a full-fledged version of a business product that grew out of NSA's Apache Accumulo data-mining system.
In both cases, technology developed for government missions has proven to have much broader potential -- and the private sector has jumped on those innovations accordingly.
Two examples do not make a trend, of course, but they are hardly the only ones. Commercial adoption of federal technology dates back to the earliest days of IT and continues unabated -- even if we sometimes act as though it ended with NASA's Apollo program.
None of this is to knock the Obama administration's aggressive recruiting in Silicon Valley. Federal IT absolutely needs new blood and should be targeting top talent in the private sector. But let's not pretend that government is always the follower or that it lacks homegrown innovators. We will showcase a slew of them later this month, in fact, and there are countless others.
Innovations -- and innovators -- are tucked away in all sorts of places. Let's not forget to look in government.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
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.