As the world has become dependent on information technology (IT), so has the federal government and its constituencies. Leveraged effectively, technical tools can engage the public, create cost savings, and improve outcomes. These benefits are obscured by regular reminders that federal IT is fundamentally flawed. It is too big to succeed,” said Zachary Bastian.
The Government is too big to succeed in federal IT? That’s the hypothesis from Zachary Bastian. Bastian is an Early Career Scholar with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He has just published a new paper:Too Big To Succeed: Need for Federal IT Reform.
He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that there are three basica areas where there are room for improvement.
Bastian’s Three Areas for Improvement:
- Embracing Agile Development. Modular Contracting. Open Source Software.
- Agile matters because it’s really an approach to software development that acknowledges a lot of the uncertainty that exists in technology. It is the anti-waterfall method. With agile there is regular communication with the programmer and the consumer. The consumer gives regular feedback along the way. The programmer builds and delivers feature by feature. There is a lot of ability to adjust and re-evaluate.
- Modular contracting is a natural compliment to agile because it’s looking at breaking contracts down into small discreet pieces. The massive size of the FAR can make it seem like these types of modular contracts aren’t possible. But sector 39 of the FAR allows these types of contracts. They are proven to work.
- Open source software is cheaper because although you have to pay someone to set it up and run it, you don’t have to pay for proprietary licensing fees. Fees that eat up costs.
- Encouraging Small Business Participation.
- Big contractors make sense for big projects. But they aren’t agile enough for smaller projects. When you are talking about smaller goals you don’t need a big contract. Smaller firms are going to be more equipped to deal with agile. You are not always shopping for a yacht but sometimes you need a canoe.
- FAR 13 is the Simplified Acquisition threshold. Basically that allows you to do a much more streamlined acquisition process for smaller more modular contracts. Think about the work the Presidential Management Fellows are doing with RFP-EZ. They are setting up a system of templates that procurement folks can use for these easy contracts.
- Shift the federal IT culture through education and experimentation
- When it comes to innovation it all comes down to good management. You have to gear your employees towards continuous learning and avoid the blame game. They need to know that if they fail they won’t loose their jobs. When you take a smaller bit it doesn’t have to work out perfectly the first time. It takes a sustained commitment from the top.