Center for Innovation and Technology Update – November 2017
The American Technology Council, started by President Trump, released a draft report in August detailing how to reorganize government to enhance the delivery of the best IT solutions to support the American people. Much of the planned changes will come to fruition via the General Services Administration (GAS)’s IT schedule. Given that the GSA, which provides centralized procurement for the federal government, is also in the midst of reorganizing and reprioritizing under the direction of a new administration these changes should be relatively easy to implement.
But at this time of determining new priorities, another part of that sprawling agency needs attention as well — the 18F program. The 18F program has now forced itself into the states having left its federal confines. The program sprawl should be raised during the anticipated confirmation hearing of Emily Murphy, the administration’s pick to lead the agency.
The program was begun by the Obama administration with the premise that government needed to recruit commercial-sector information technology talent to assist federal government agencies with their major technology challenges. However, 18F quickly found that their potential internal federal customers were not that interested. So, less than three years after its founding, the mission creep began.
The program expanded its role by actively soliciting and offering services to state and local governments—including end-to-end state program oversight as a systems integrator, federal procurement assistance and federal agency enablement. But as with most Faustian bargains, there is a catch. This offer is often paired with significant pressure from the federal agencies that are responsible for funding portions of these technology projects to the point where states may feel compelled to work with 18F regardless of whether or not those states feel it is in their best interest to do so.
The GSA should have absolutely no role seeking contract management from states to perform IT responsibilities, using contractors as subcontractors under procedures that reflect nothing near state procurement laws. In addition to 18F’s inexperience performing contract management roles, the full risk of state and local technology contract performance normally placed on a contractor now has been moved to an entity that is exempt from cost or performance risk. When a state or local IT system does not work, who is held liable? Are GSA funds expended to fix whatever issues might be created by 18F? Will the federal government leave states holding the bag?
Although there has been no formal explanation given as to why GSA has pushed itself into the states, significant financial losses that the program has experienced since its inception may be the reason. Failing to convince the federal government to use its own creation, 18F appears to have now moved on to target the states.
The confirmation hearing would be a perfect place and time to ask for a formal explanation as to why GSA has expanded beyond the federal government to compete directly with the private sector. Even better would be to use the time to dissuade the agency from competing with the free market, violating principles of federalism and labeling the expansion of the federal government as innovation.
ALEC General Counsel and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer