FreshPaint/Shutterstock.com

Getting Tech to ‘Show Up’

Rolling back reforms sure won’t attract innovative players to the government market.

In a recent speech, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said the government needs the tech community to “show up.” According to Smith, the more tech experts from Silicon Valley join the government, the more the government is likely to begin adopting smarter, more contemporary IT and technology practices. Her theme has been a consistent focus of the administration, and is a large part of the reason that so many federal technology leadership positions are being been filled by Silicon Valley veterans like her.

To be sure, the need is there. Office of Personnel Management data document that among the more than 75,000 IT professionals in government, for every one that is under 30 years of age there are roughly 10 that are over 50.  So, Smith, like her predecessor Todd Park, is on to an important issue. But Smith’s call went, or should go, well beyond talent recruitment. After all, even if they reach their planned peak, the cornerstones of the administration’s efforts to bring new talent to government—the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, the Digital Services Corps and GSA’s 18F operation—combined will involve a few hundred coders and developers against a broader need for a range of technical talent that is well into the thousands. That might be enough to make a notable difference, but is not nearly enough to drive and sustain true systemic innovation and change. And given the competitive nature of the market for talent and the government’s standing, or lack thereof, within it, accomplishing that larger goal will require the government to maintain a robust engagement with the entire technology sector.

So, how does her call for tech to show up align with that reality? It doesn’t. In fact, tech has shown up.  During the last 20 years, since the advent of the major acquisition reforms of the 1990s, the number of tech companies engaged with the government has skyrocketed. The list includes many of the biggest name tech companies with a Silicon Valley pedigree: Salesforce, Amazon, Palantir, Cisco, Oracle, and notably, Smith’s own former employer, Google. Moreover, those same reforms enabled scores of existing federal contractors to invest in and bring new capabilities to the table and partner with new teammates and subcontractors in the marketplace. 

Nonetheless, there remains a large community of tech and other companies that resist entering the government market, either independently or as partners with existing market participants. Yet rather than seeking ways to address the hurdles those companies face, some of the most central tenets of the reforms of the ‘90s are under attack and barriers to entry continue to grow.  This has broad implications—both for potential new market entrants as well as for the many existing market players that are investing in new solutions and innovations and/or seeking to partner with nontraditional providers. In other words, while Smith’s call is correct, it ignores the government’s continued self-inflicted wounds, many of which are percolating within her own administration.

At the Defense Department, for example, efforts are underway to roll back some of the core elements of how the government defines a “commercial item or service.” The current statute was probably the single most important reform of the 1990s; it was the principal gateway into the market for many who had long avoided it. Rolling those reforms back will not only work against the administration’s desire for tech to show up.  It could cause companies that entered recently to exit or limit their participation in the market. The contemplated changes could severely limit the government’s access to new capabilities and will almost certainly make the government a much less attractive customer. This is the third time in recent years the department has sought changes to the law. Fortunately, Congress has rejected the proposed changes each time before. But what message is the executive branch sending to tech or other companies that are being implored to show up?

At the same time, the General Services Administration, which sees itself as a central player in the drive to bring new tech talent and capability to government, including the launch of its own, in-house startup, is also sending mixed messages. For one major procurement, the agency is giving no credit to bidders for their commercial past performance, prohibiting qualified third party certifications of business systems, and requiring even small businesses to have financial systems certified to the government’s unique cost accounting standards. Not only do those standards bear little relationship to the generally accepted cost principles that govern the entirety of the commercial marketplace, they are among the most significant, costly and highest barriers to entry into the government market.

Indeed, while the administration and DOD leaders have talked a lot about the importance of reducing or eliminating non-value added compliance and reporting requirements, just the reverse is happening. It is now estimated that 25 percent of every contract dollar goes to compliance, much of it for government unique requirements, and the figure is projected to rise to 30 percent when new requirements go into effect. 

Then there is the core question of how to deliver real value and innovation.  That’s awfully tough to do in an environment dominated by a low price/minimal technically acceptable mind-set. It’s awfully tough to do in an environment where risk aversion is a well-established, even accepted and dominant force. It’s a tough challenge when a Navy command awards engineering services contracts at rates 60 percent below what the Navy itself has determined to be reasonable, or when the NSA is doing the same with analysts.  And it doesn’t help when the administration itself advocates capping all contractor compensation at levels that are 30 percent less than my nephew was offered for his first tech job in Silicon Valley—when he graduated from college four years ago.

In short, the administration can’t reasonably expect tech to show up until the government marketplace starts to exhibit the kinds of characteristics that any company seeks in any market: open and quality competition, balanced oversight, support and incentives for innovation and high performance, and a mutual awareness and understanding of risk. Given the innovation and creativity that is available and needed from both existing and new players, these attributes are actually more critical now than ever. Indeed, it’s not just that we need tech to show up.  We need everyone to show up.

Stan Soloway is president and CEO of the Professional Services Council.
 

(Image via FreshPaint/Shutterstock.com)

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.