Do acquisition deadlines spur innovation?
IT modernization legislation looks to avoid the end-of-year spending spree, but some say time pressure can spark creativity.
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.