Tag Archives: government

I want you to become a government tech vendor.

Hey, competent tech folks: your country needs you. Your knowledge, your experience, and your connections can improve the United States for everybody.

I’m not asking you to go work for the federal government.

I’m not asking you to go work for a non-profit.

I’m asking you to become a government technology vendor. I want you to sign up at SAM.gov, start bidding on 18F microcontracts, and eventually pay an attorney to help you navigate the procurement process to get a multi-million-dollar federal technology contract.

Uncle Sam drawing, captioned: I want you to become a gov't tech vendor.

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The same handful of vendors bid on every federal tech project, and often the bids are between one and two orders of magnitude higher than they should be. FedScoop recently published a list of the top 100 federal IT vendors, ranked by income. (I’d only heard of 13 of them before.) 71% of of the contract income in this list goes to the top 10 vendors. 22% goes to Lockheed Martin. Look at this distribution of the top 100:

A chart that drops off very steeply
Numbers are in millions.

If we performed this exercise with all federal IT contracts—and there will be $86 billion in federal IT spending in FY2017—we’d see that there is a very long tail, though it probably wouldn’t change the fact that most of the spoils are divided among a handful of vendors.

Despite all of this spending (or perhaps because of it), only 6.4% of large federal IT projects succeed. The failure and subsequent rescue of Healthcare.gov shined a light on the pitfalls of our legacy procurement model, and the enormous benefits that can come of working with small, agile teams of software developers who are given the space to do their job.

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I’ve spent the last few years working in tech as a non-profit partner to government and, before that, I worked in tech within government. I am here to tell you that you can effect more positive change as a government vendor than as a helpful non-profit, and that you can be at least as helpful to our nation as a government vendor as you can by working on tech within government. (After all, government outsources work to thousands of times more technical positions than the number that they employ directly.)

Generally speaking, free software is useless to governments. If you spent the next eight months feverishly producing the perfect regulatory management platform, and then handed a copy of it to an agency (complete with a FOSS license), odds are slim to none that they would be able to use it. There are far too many hurdles.  But if you bid $100,000 on a government RFP for that system, you’d ensure that government would save a bundle and be able to actually use your software. Government has a system for acquiring new technology: the procurement process. Realistically, the change you can provide will come from working within that system, not trying to work outside of it.

The United States needs a small army of competent developers to start hundreds of businesses, bid on federal contracts, and do top-notch work for a fair rate. We need people whose goal isn’t an IPO and fabulous wealth, but instead to earn a nice living for themselves and everybody who works for them while making their country better by creating better technology for government.

There is good and important work that needs to be done in government technology, at federal, state, and local levels. Doing that work in exchange for payment isn’t merely not a bad thing, it may be the only thing you can viably do that actually makes a difference. It’s not reasonable to expect talented developers to perform free work at government hackathons in exchange for pizza while major vendors produce failing software for hundreds of millions of dollars.

A 6.4% success rate isn’t good enough. Fixing this will involve a lot of work beyond merely attracting new vendors—and most of that work is within government—but attracting new vendors is an important part in this improvement. Become a government tech vendor. Help make the U.S. a better place for everybody.

OpenCourt Wins Legal Battle Over Streaming Proceedings

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled in favor of allowing OpenCourt to expand their streaming video feeds of court proceedings beyond Quincy District Court. The WBUR project has been running since last year, allowing anybody to watch what’s going on in the courtroom. It’s been a success by any measure, but when they tried to expand to broadcasting jury trials, the county DA sued to stop them. The court ruled that there’s simply no legal basis to stop them—they have the same right as any other media outlet to film in the courtroom. This is a great project, doing the important work of opening up courtrooms. This is the second such legal challenge that they’ve faced, the second time it’s gone to the state’s highest court, and the second time that they’ve won. 

Why the USPS is running out of money.

I thought that the USPS was in financial trouble because they’d over-promised pensions. Nope. It turns out that a law passed by Congress in 2006 requires the USPS to save up enough money to pay 100% of their pension obligations for the next 75 years by 2016. That’s unheard of. So why require that? To break the back of the USPS union. The same law prohibits the USPS from engaging in any business activity other than strictly postal services, so they can’t even innovate their way out of this. 

An archive of reports issued to the General Assembly.

The state legislature routinely puts together commissions that conclude by issuing a report about its assigned topic. Dozens of reports have been published this year, on topics as varied as “Management of State-owned Bottomlands on the Seaside of the Eastern Shore” and “Misclassification of Employees as Independent Contractors in Virginia.” Although most of the older reports have only the title—not the report itself—some old ones and all of the recent ones can be read on the General Assembly’s website, clear back to 1897. 

Links for November 11th

  • Double-Tongued Dictionary: hoghouse
    "Connotating legislation that has been stripped of its original provisions and amended to accomplish a different purpose." This is a useful word.
  • Office of Government Ethics: Executive Agency Ethics Pledge Waivers
    These are the presidential appointees who were given waivers to exempt them from one or more ethics regulations, along with copies of the relevant documents that explain the circumstances warranting their exemption from ethics standards.
  • Bulk Homeopathy
    Save money by buying in bulk. They ought to dehydrate it, to save on shipping. Just add water!

Links for October 31st