18F, Digital Service are here to stay, CIO says

Federal CIO Tony Scott  (Photo: Robert Severi for FCW)

The new crop of government-wide tech advisory groups likely will be sticking around for the next administration, according to federal CIO Tony Scott.

Federal CIO Tony Scott expects the Office of Management and Budget's year-and-a-half old Digital Service team and other expert tech groups will survive the coming presidential election and subsequent transition because the issues they address -- making federal agencies work better in an increasingly technical world -- make them critical.

"It will outlast [the Obama administration]" because of increasing pressure for government to address big picture issues, Scott said at a Dec. 9 event panel sponsored by the Information Technology Industry Council at the National Press Club. Cybersecurity and digital economy issues are critical for everyone in the U.S., he added.

Scott said federal groups like the USDS and the General Services Administration's 18F development shop have a strong draw on tech experts because they can work on massive, government-scale projects that don't present themselves in most private-sector tech jobs.

On the same panel, Thomas Kalil, deputy director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, also predicted that it was "highly likely" USDS would outlast the current administration for the same reason.

Getting top technical talent to improve the federal government's ability to serve and ultimately save it money, Kalil said, "isn't a partisan issue."

That's a good thing, both men noted, because the skills and expertise those groups provide are needed to change the mindset of federal agencies as digital disruption hits virtually every corner of government.

"There is great enthusiasm in the tech community" for the programs, Scott said. "There are some who have gone back to Silicon Valley and realized what they're doing isn't as interesting as what they did in Washington, and they want to come back."

And Scott wants to see that techie expertise, agile practices, and innovative absorbed into federal culture. Federal agencies, he said, "have to change their frame of reference" on digital infrastructure.

"You can't just put stuff in and leave it until it breaks. You have to have constant refresh," Scott said. "You have to have a mindset of working this out that rides the curve" across the agency's entire operational picture.

"You don't just put in a road and leave it," he said.  And IT, like physical infrastructure, needs maintenance and monitoring --  and sometimes a complete renovation.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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