Last week, the Hillary Clinton campaign announced their agenda on technology and innovation. There were a number of initiatives targeted towards improving government technology, including strengthening the U.S. digital services and agency teams, opening up government data, implementing the DATA act, hardening federal networks, and more.
I wanted to build upon this list with five additional items for the next administration to consider in modernizing government technology:
1) Increase Civilian Technology R&D – In the Intelligence community, they have created and funded In-Q-Tel, which is a venture capital firm that invests in technologies that the intelligence community would like to see. They also have significant capital in DARPA to provide grants for new technology they would like to see to solve military problems. I would like to see a civilian-focused VC group similar to In-Q-Tel to invest in companies and technologies that are priorities for them (topics could range from social services technology to educational technologies and more). I’d also like to see larger federal civilian grants for new civil technologies similar to DARPA as well as an expansion of the SBIR program to invest in the key civilian technology priorities.
2) Fund Legacy Modernization – There is a $3 billion bill proposed by Federal CIO Tony Scott in the Congress to help agencies transition from legacy systems. Over 70% of the budget of CIOs is spent on operations and maintenance of legacy solutions. While I love innovation teams and bringing in new technology to solve new problems, the biggest issue is getting mission-critical systems off of legacy infrastructure, code bases, and limited functionality. These transformations should look at innovative modular procurement approaches and performance contracting (fee in savings) approaches.
3) Increase Government Employees Digital IQ – To solve large skill government problems, we need to make sure we have a high level of digital IQ and government IQ. The trend around 18F & USDS has been exciting to see a wave of new high digital IQ talent start working on government problems. Currently, it’s been limited in its scope of promoting high digital IQ government employees already in system (bias towards outsiders) and has been limited in its digital IQ training. For IT programs managers, there are a range of program management training requirements. I’d like to see an increase in the number of digital training courses (from digital procurement to digital tools) and have clearly mandated training requirements. I’d also develop increase opportunities for career staff to rotate and join digital services groups to make sure the “federal IQ” is as high as the digital IQ. Additionally, I'd look to weave in digital requirements into public policy schools and programs like NSF Cybercorp program to make sure building the federal pipeline.
4) Continue Cloud-First & FedRAMP Priorities – One of the great momentum’s in Obama administration was the Cloud-first policy created by former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra. There has been great progress in the move to the cloud at the infrastructure, platform, and SaaS layer. This has been additionally sped up by the creation of FedRAMP which provides a coordinating body for federal government to vet cloud providers at one single point of time and also strengthen cloud security requirements necessary in times of greater cybersecurity risks. I'd build upon the momentum by providing additional enforcement of cloud-first approach and utilization of FedRAMP approved vendors. This approach both increases agility, capability, while strengthening the security of solutions.
5) Continue to Invest in Modernizing Procurement - Procurement still continues to be the biggest lever government has to affect change in technology. At one part, it is making small changes like increasing thresholds to quickly buy smaller technologies, and opening up procurement data. However, the biggest issue is creating a culture change in procurement of taking different approaches that already exist in regulations but aren't used frequently enough (I'm a big fan of the energy savings performance contracts where there are no-bid contracts where the winner provides upfront capital to modernize the infrastructure of a government building and gets a % of the cost energy savings).
Bonus Tip - I'd look for ways to tie in the numerous other initiatives written in the broader technology agenda into the work of government performance. A number of the other Hilary initiatives focused on growing STEM programs and diversity in the technology field - we should look for ways these programs can turn into hiring programs for government agencies. In looking for places to deploy wireless 5g, perhaps there are government buildings that could serve as beta sites.
What are your tips for improving federal technology and innovation?