Get Ready For A Seismic Shift In Federal IT

Joseph Marks | Government Health IT | November 1, 2012

Four years can change a lot in federal technology. As the Bush administration prepared to hand power to the Obama team in late-2008, no mission-critical government systems were housed in computer clouds, there were fewer than two dozen government-built mobile applications and the nation had never had a chief information officer. Now new systems are moving to or being built in the cloud every month, there are more than 100 government apps and as for federal chief information officers—there have been two.

Four years ago, the idea that federal information technology contractors should provide three-, six- and 12-month deliverables rather than a fully completed system years down the road—called agile development—was gaining traction among some technology leaders, but was not a governmentwide mandate. And digital transparency was mostly about tools that sifted through email archives to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, not the 400,000 public data sets agencies have now proactively posted online.

Changes of similar magnitude are sure to reshape federal IT during the next four to eight years, experts say, spurred on by shrinking agency budgets, the developing promise of cloud storage and advances in commercial technology that are influencing what both federal employees and citizens expect of government. “It really doesn’t matter whether Romney wins or Obama wins, the budget pressures are going to be severe and agencies are going to have to figure out ways to get far more efficient than they are now,” Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said in mid-October...

Open Health News' Take: 

This is a very important article by Joseph Marks. It's a must read for those who want to understand the tectonic shift currently taking place in the IT procurement practices of the US Government. At the same time Marks does not go far enough to discuss the major tectonic shift that has already happened. Marks talks about policies allowing Federal CIOs to be empowered to make decisions, an increasing level of collaboration focused on social media, and emerging "Bring your Own Device (BYOD)" policies. Marks is on target in all of those areas. However, he missed the elephant in the room. That is open source.

Open source is growing in leaps and bounds in the Federal Government and just a couple of weeks ago we saw what will soon be known as the "watershed moment" for open source in government agencies. That was the 1st Annual OSEHRA Summit and Workshop that took place at the Gaylord National Conference Center at National Harbor, just outside Washington D.C., Oct. 17 & 18. The Summit was hosted by the Open Source Electronic Health Records Agent (OSEHRA) organization is the custodial agent of the open source software code for the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs' (VA) VistA EHR system. As we document in this article, the conference was an extraordinary sccess. The organization, barely a year old, managed to bring the entire community together. In addition, as we report in this other article, four private sector companies, Medsphere, DSS, KRM Associates, and AEGIS, stepped up to the plate to contribute major enhancements to VistA to the community and the VA under commercially-friendly licenses. 

These events demonstrate that US Government agencies can:

  • Successfully implement open source strategies. 
  • Create a public/private collaborative open source code repository.
  • Receive valuable code contributions from the private sector.

Government/Private sector open source collaboration is not a hypothetical future event, it is already happening. And now that the pilot project has proven to be a success, we will most certainly see the momentum continue to grow.--Roger A. Maduro, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Open Health News.