There has been much discussion since the election of Donald J. Trump as our 45th President, in regards to where we go from here in federal IT. The short answer is that we really don’t know, given how little attention was given to the issue during the election. However, much work remains to be done, and some of the ways that the future of IT innovation, and the direction of federal technology programs, is dependent on what becomes the priorities of the Trump Administration.
Given what little we know, or certainly expect, is a modest increase in the federal IT budget, given the desire to freeze the federal workforce and an expected increase in contracting for IT services. Certainly at the Defense department, the expectation is a two-fold boon to large defense contractors with the elimination or easing of sequestration, followed by a healthy increase in overall defense spending.
However, there is also discussion of possibly eliminating programs that are seen as either not cost effective, or underperforming. One of those programs that could be on the chopping block is 18F, the digital services team located within the General Services Administration (GSA). This program was recently criticized for its spending and management practices, and if eliminated in short order, could be sign of the way the Trump Administration will manage federal IT.
GSA itself is the cross-hairs, especially with $3.1 billion IT modernization fund, which apparently is being threatened since Trump officials have commented they don’t trust the GSA to administer the money to the agencies.
…“That’s why it’s not going to happen,” the official said. “I see no chance now.”
…IT management will be handled more like a business under the Trump administration, according to the official…
Further complicating GSA’s initiatives is the future of Category Management, especially given the bipartisan support of questioning the program, and the letter sent to Office of Management and Budget criticizing the implementation of the initiative. According to GSA, Category Management “is an approach the Federal Government is applying to buy smarter and more like a single enterprise.”
Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, along with Ranking Member Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), wrote to OMB:
“By moving ahead with its Category Management scam, OMB has decided to deny small businesses the ability to fully and fairly compete for federal contracts,” Chairman Chabot said. “I will continue to work with Ranking Member Velázquez and members of our Committee in a bipartisan manner to fight back against this destructive policy on behalf of American taxpayers and small businesses.”
Another initiative in question is the continued outreach to Silicon Valley for technical innovation. This has been especially important at the Pentagon, with their Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) program. These programs have greater uncertainty for their futures until the budget is formally established, and policy initiatives are outlined for defense spending next year, given Trumps’ advocacy for significantly increasing defense spending in shipbuilding and expanding the size of the armed forces.
Nonetheless, Ben FitzGerald, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS, said it best:
"…It's not just about buying more things.... We need to invest in our technological advantage."…
One program that I hope continues to move forward for innovation, and should be seen as a good source of investment, is the Ideas Lab at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and similar other initiatives. Included in the Idea Lab is the HHS Buyers Club, which has been a great success in testing new methods to modernize IT acquisitions. This program was built with the premise to not implement new regulations, but rather emphasizing new strategies allowed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or other approved legislation. These are the types of programs that hopefully will have a future in the Trump Administration.
What does the crystal ball hold for the future of federal IT? I believe it will be hopeful, and continued opportunities for initiatives such as digital services, cyber, cloud, big data, and innovation through modernization will continue to help improve the government’s technology transformation.
First thing is first, of course. Let’s get the Administration up and running, let’s get the budget in place, and let’s keep moving forward.