Government IT Procurement Wobble

July 5, 2016

I read “IT Showdown: Tech Giants Face Off against 18F.” What’s an 18F? If you do work for the US government, you associate 18 F with the address of the General Services Administration. The name now evokes some annoyance among established US government contractors. The term 18F refers to a group set up to reduce the time, cost, and hassle of getting IT “done”.

In the good old days, there were people in the US government who did things. Over the years, US government professionals rely on contractors to do certain types of work. In the information technology world, the things range from talking about how one might do something to actually setting up a system to deliver certain outputs.

Along the way, commercial enterprises provided hardware, software, and services. The hardware and software were, for many years, proprietary or custom crafted to meet the needs of a particular government entity. These statements of work made life difficult for a vendor who used what were often perceived as expensive solutions. License agreements made it tricky for a government entity to get another commercial outfit to modify or work around limitations of certain commercial systems.

According to the write up, some of the established vendors are grousing. I learned:

At a House subcommittee hearing on June 10, lobbyists from the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) alleged that 18F is hindering profits by acting as both a procurement policymaker and as a tech competitor inside the General Services Administration (GSA). The two groups assert a conflict of interest, and in testimony, have submitted a list of grievances and recommendations intended to curtail 18F’s authority. The hearing was conducted jointly by the House Subcommittees of Government Operations and Information Technology to assess the effectiveness of 18F and the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) — a sister tech consultancy within the White House.

The industry group perceives the 18F outfit as a bit of a threat. Blanket purchase agreements, open source solutions, and giving certain contracts for small coding jobs to non traditional outfits are not what the established information technology vendors want to happen.

I find the dust up amusing. The revenues of established information technology vendors are not likely to suffer sharp declines overnight. The 18F initiative is an example of the US government trying to find a solution to escalating costs for information technology and the gap between the commercial solutions available and actual solutions deployed in a government entity.

Will 18F reduce the gap? One thing is certain. Some vendors associate the term “18F” with some different connotations. Imagine a government professional using a mobile phone app to perform a task for personal work and then using a mainframe act to perform a similar task in a government agency. Exciting.

Stephen E Arnold, July 5, 2016


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