New US Digital Service Looks to Avoid IT Catastrophes

Alex Howard | TechPresident | August 13, 2014

...On the executive side, the White House and federal agencies have made several significant moves over the winter and spring, even as the furor over the mess grew and subsided. The first big public initiative was the establishment of 18F, a new unit of the U.S. General Services Agency that looks to "fail fast" instead of failing big on government IT projects. Working with agencies, fellows and contractors, 18F is actually building, free and open source government digital services, working in public on Github , for the public. Significantly, 18F has committed to developing free and open source software for Uncle Sam, releasing code developed on behalf of the public to the public. As I wrote here in April, if 18F can prove that bringing technologists into government to buy, build and deploy technology, it will be a huge shift from the traditional RFP and contracting model, offering a new model for "insourcing" technology and creating new pressure in the market for services.

The second initiative went live on Monday, when the White House formally launched a United States Digital Service (USDS) and published an open source Digital Services Playbook and a “TechFAR,” a part of the guide that “highlights the flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that can help agencies implement ‘plays’ from the Digital Services Playbook.”

While the playbook has earned a lot of attention, the TechFAR component of it may have more impact inside of government. If you read between the lines the way Red Hat chief public sector strategist Gunnar Hellekson does, " The existence of TechFAR implicitly endorses what industry has been saying for quite some time: the rules are fine as they are," he wrote on his blog. "This is a surprise, since you can’t spend five minutes with someone in government IT without a sarcastic remark about procurement. With TechFAR, OMB has spoken: We can make do with the acquisition tools we have. Reinterpretation and new guidance will get us where we need to go."...