The true source of innovation in federal IT

Seville Government Consulting's Jaime Gracia argues that to solve its technology challenges, the government should turn to the small-business community.

Shutterstock image (by Ismagilov): young woman thinking about the future.
 

 

There has been much discussion about the lack of technological innovation in the federal IT market. Steve Kelman, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, has been blogging on FCW's "The Lectern" about this very issue, with his focus seeming to be that industry, rather than government, is the problem.

With that in mind, I'd like to offer the notion that a major part of the IT industry seems to be missing from the conversation.

Quoting Kelman from his blog: "I asked my source what he would do about this problem if he were newly appointed as CEO to a big government IT contractor [emphasis added].

Therein lies one of the primary reasons why the federal government continues to struggle to find innovative, cutting-edge solutions to technology and modernization issues. Government officials believe -- incorrectly, in my opinion -- that innovation will come from large IT contractors.

To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around for both private-sector and government decision-makers. However, barely any commentary even hints at what is really happening behind the scenes.

Let's start with where real innovation is occurring in the federal market: small businesses. And that means the small-business community is an important key to fixing federal IT.

As Kelman and his colleagues point out in their discussions on the blog, the federal market is dominated by large firms that tend to focus less on research and development and more on bidding on federal IT requirements outlined in agencies' requests for proposals. That activity is a direct response to market forces created by the federal government. Many of the comments on the blogs discuss that trend as well.

Furthermore, many comments on the blog and "The Lectern" blog itself discuss the culture of risk aversion in government. That culture prefers the status quo of bidding IT work requirements that are nothing more than the upkeep of status quo legacy systems, which are currently being serviced by the same large federal IT government contractors. The contracts add up to billions of dollars, but few to none of them seek cutting-edge solutions, innovative technologies or any real change in the federal IT services market.

Although most large federal IT contractors claim they are the leaders in certain technology sectors where innovation is occurring (e.g., agile, cyber and cloud), those statement are not valid. The market is not mature enough in those areas to justify such claims, but the firms continue to reap the rewards of their marketing and lobbying efforts. And the government continues its consolidation of the market through its desire to use large contract vehicles (e.g., strategic sourcing and governmentwide acquisition contracts). They are causing serious damage to the small-business industrial base as a result.

Adding insult to injury is the continuous march to Silicon Valley, where the Pentagon and other agencies are begging commercial IT start-ups and investment firms to save the government from itself and help move it into the 21st century of technology. The creation of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental and the ongoing shunning of small businesses that are attempting to compete for government contracts continue to drain resources, thereby preventing progress and innovation.

Silicon Valley is hesitant to work with the federal government for many reasons, yet federal agencies can't take no for an answer. New DIUx centers continue to open across the nation.

Furthermore, contractors now have to deal with more competition from the federal government itself through the likes of the U.S. Digital Service and the 18F program at the General Services Administration. I certainly applaud those efforts, but I believe the programs have raised enough concerns about poor financial management, security breaches and overall program management failures to warrant a thorough review of their efficacy by the next administration.

At the same time, many small businesses in and around Washington are exclusively focused on creating innovative, cutting-edge technologies for the federal government but have little access to capital, contracting opportunities, federal buyers or the leverage that large firms enjoy. Even more challenging, executives of large federal contractors actively lobby for nothing short of the elimination of small-business programs altogether as "acquisition reform."

Refocus is in order to help alleviate the problem with innovation, or lack thereof, in the federal market. It begins with acknowledging the problem and considering all the possible solutions to it. The federal government would be wise to look beyond the curtain of large IT contractors and see the world of possibilities that the small-business community offers to solving some of our pressing technological problems.

NEXT STORY: The opening up of GPS

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.