Modernization

Do acquisition deadlines spur innovation?

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

Sometimes time pressure in acquisition can spur innovation, at least one defense official believes. The multi-year funding for IT contemplated by the Modernizing Government Technology bill has the potential to dull the federal government's tech renovation effort, suggested John Bergin, business technology officer at the Department of Defense.

The longer time frame to obligate dollars, Bergin speculated in an Oct. 10 Deltek discussion on the federal acquisition landscape in fiscal 2018, could lead to agencies squirreling the money away into "rainy day" funds where it will idle, instead of spending it in a more timely fashion for innovative, or more modern, IT.

However, Alla Goldman Seiffert, the deputy director for acquisitions at the General Services Administration's 18F/Technology Transformation Services, said the longer spending times would give agencies more time to implement agile development sprints that would lead to sharper, more effective services.

Three-year funding windows for modernization, she said, would allow agencies to start small with innovative ideas and see if and how those services work. That short-sprint, "see what works" approach, she said, is key to agencies finding new more effective agile paths through their legacy IT systems.

"It frees up government to think creatively and produce modularly," Seiffert said.

Although the current method of federal IT spending is flawed, it does have something of a rough upside, according to Bergin. "It's a 50/50 bag" being forced to spend allocated money within a year, he said. "At the end of the fourth quarter, the government takes a lot of risks" spending allocated funds so they don't have to return unspent money to the Treasury.

"We do some really cool stuff at the end of the year," Bergin said. The longer-term spending flexibility, he said, "takes away impetus for innovation."

As for innovative IT solutions, GSA is moving ahead with its plans to use blockchain to speed federal acquisition processes.

GSA isn't using blockchain for official transaction records, said Jose Arrieta, the agency's director of the Office of IT Schedule Contract Operations. Instead, GSA is using blockchain as "high-powered middleware" in the Schedule 70 operation to manage contracting data in FASt Lane contracts through automation.

The technology, he said, will allow the agency to keep track of vendor data across disparate systems, providing a common data baseline.

"We didn't do it to decrease costs," he said. "We did it to automate processes."

The technology, he said, could allow agencies to speed IT modernization, allowing them a controlled way to shut down legacy systems while they roll over to software-based solutions.

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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