A Look Back at the Decade: Government Tech Edition

With the closing of the decade, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the top technology headlines of 2009 and compare them to where the market is today.

Data on the Rise

Big news was the launch of data.gov in late May of 2009. The site was championed by the country's first Federal CTO, Vivek Kundra, as a way to enable citizens to access federal data. In addition to making the government more transparent, the hope was that private sector could use the massive amount of federal data in research and to create innovative programs and solutions. The site launched with 47 data sets and as of the last reporting (June 2017) it now holds approximately 200,000 datasets, representing about 10 million data resources. Beyond these numbers, data.gov's impact has been significant.

Thousands of programs can point to the site as the basis for their development. More importantly, it launched a new way of thinking in government. Agencies stopped being as territorial about their data and slowly but surely became more open to sharing it with one another and with the public as they saw what innovation can happen with simple access. In 2019, the vision of data.gov expanded with the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, requiring that nonsensitive government data be made available in machine-readable, open formats by default.

Cloud First to Cloud Smart

In 2009 the Obama administration established the Cloud-First mandate that changed the way agencies looked at acquiring and modernizing their systems. Each agency had to look first to a cloud solution to see if it fit their needs better than a traditional on-premise or hardware-based solution. Email and communication applications were some of the earliest systems moved to the cloud.

While there were many concerns about the security of cloud, acquisition processes proved to also be a huge stumbling block. Because of the consumption model of cloud, traditional procurement language and processes did not "fit" this new technology. The FAA was an early cloud adopter finding a way to acquire and manage cloud solutions for security, capacity, and application performance.

With minds open to cloud and administrative barriers removed, the government has moved from Cloud-First to Cloud-Smart, an evolution we've covered here on the blog.

Cybersecurity in Focus

President Obama issued a national cyber policy review in May 2009 that included 24 recommendations, including the need for a national cyber coordinator. Hiring for this position proved problematic and delayed the implementation of many of the recommendations by a year or more. Once the building blocks were in place, the government has spent the last 10 years getting organized around cyber defense and strengthening the nation's cybersecurity posture.

We've written here about the progress of the Continuous Diagnostic Mitigation (CDM) Program moving the government from identifying who and what was on their networks (and subsequently cleaning and tightening them up) to better reporting and proactivity related to cyber threats and incidents.

These are only three areas that have changed drastically in the last 10 years. There's also of course the rise of mobile and apps, the continued focus on improving government "customer" service, and the application of technology in the healthcare field. We'd love to hear your picks for the biggest tech or policy evolution over the last decade. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Exposing the Supply Chain is a Matter of National Security

The phrase "Supply Chain" may make you immediately think of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart or manufacturers like GM and John Deere, but government is highly reliant on security supply chains. A supply chain is the network of all the people, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, to its eventual delivery to the end user. In government, supply chains have come front and center with the Trump administration's rulings banning government use of products from certain Chinese manufacturers citing security concerns that products could contain ways for the Chinese to spy on the U.S. Companies selling technology to the government have to be able to trace the source of all elements of their products to ensure nothing originated with the banned distributors.

Being able to do this requires a mature supply chain process and solution. Interagency committees have been established to determine best practices in securing increasingly complex supply chains. Understanding supply chains is an expensive undertaking and one survey found that small and mid-sized businesses are opting out, counting on the fact that they will not be the ones called out to defend their supply chain to government. This mentality may not be an option for long.

DoD is getting more and more prescriptive in their security and supply chain guidance, adding the review of contractor purchasing systems as part of bid reviews. GSA has also explored banning the use of refurbished IT, since that includes products where a supply chain cannot be re-created.

The rules and regulations around supply chains can seem just as complex as the chains themselves. Luckily, it's a topic of discussion at a number of upcoming events.

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Acquisition and Procurement: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

With another Government Fiscal Year ramping up, we're starting with a whole new year of budget and contract opportunities in the government market. As we've written here before, the acquisition and procurement process in government is evolving to adapt to the technologies and services being procured as well as changes in the workforce that supports it.

The federal government has been rolling out a number of changes to modernize the procurement process. The Government Services Administration (GSA) is taking steps to streamline their scheduled offerings from two dozen into one. The goal of this consolidation is to remove overlap between schedules and eliminate confusion around what schedule should be used. This shift is happening in three phases:

  • Phase 1 -- Issued a consolidated schedule solicitation with a simplified format, streamlined terms and conditions, and new categories and special item numbers (SINs) This phase is complete.
  • Phase 2 -- Mass modifications of existing contracts. Finishing in 2019.
  • Phase 3 - Final consolidation. Slated for July 2020.

In other efforts to be more efficient, procurement teams across government have been looking at implementing emerging technologies to automate manual processes, plus speed up and secure the overall acquisition lifecycle. For example, the use of blockchain is helping buyers "comparison shop" for pricing as well as closing out contracts.

Finally, acquisition groups are playing a big role in ensuring new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are consumable by the federal government. GSA is partnering with the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to advance the efforts of the AI Center of Excellence, employing tactics that have worked in other agencies including the Department of Agriculture.

We've pulled together a number of events that are applicable to the procurement community as well as industry and government looking for ways to introduce new technologies and services into the government.

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Agile Acquisition

Don't let the title mislead you, today we're not talking about acquiring Agile services (though, that plays a role) but rather about how government is making their procurement process more flexible and dynamic to meet the needs of federal teams and citizens alike. We've written here about the challenges in government acquisition--from the retiring workforce, to concerns of end-of-year spending, to incompatibility with modern technology. Given these challenges, we've seen a shift in recent years from the "that's the way it's always been" mentality to one of innovation.

There is some guidance on making changes to procurement including the introduction of Other Transaction Authority (OTA), a way to more quickly carry out certain prototype, research, and production projects. OTAs incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments. But, what is having a greater effect is agencies taking risks and trying new procurement methods on a one-off basis to see what works.

Lesley Field, the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in an interview, "I see a lot of appetite out there for taking risks, calculated risks and bringing our industry partners along." She went on to talk about how agencies should be willing to try new ways of acquiring goods and services and be willing to learn quickly from mistakes and change course. Also communicating those lessons learned across government is crucial to government-wide procurement reform. Continue reading

Acquiring Knowledge on Government Acquisition

For those of us in the government market, October is the time to break out the Happy New Year noisemakers and celebrate the new government fiscal year (GFY). Each August and September is a frantic race for agencies to spend their remaining budget, which poses opportunity but a lot of hard work for the vendors that want to earn some of this end-of-year shopping spree money. In recent years, the turning of the new fiscal year has also meant uncertainty. From shut downs to continuing resolutions, the switch from one year to the next has not been as smooth as flipping a calendar page.

A group of senators has come forth to raise concerns about this annual end-of-year frenzy. A recent report found that the last week of the fiscal year accounts for 12.3 percent of spending [on IT]. Numerous other reports over the years have found similar statistics. In 2017 this equated to $11 billion in the final week of the year -- almost five times more than the average weekly spending for that year. This spending happens because agencies are afraid if they do not use all the money they are allocated, their budgets will go down in the future. This group of senators, as well as others in government, are looking at options for reforming the system to eliminate the potential waste resulting from this fast spending. Continue reading