Is the U.S. Digital Service destined to fall short?
I’ve been reading some of the coverage of this week’s announcement by the White House of the U.S. Digital Service, and I’m trying to figure out if this is a big deal or not.
Sure, it had a White House launch and will live in the Office of Management and Budget. Mikey Dickerson will lead it. He’s a former Google exec who joined QSSI last October to help salvage Healthcare.gov.
The basic ideas behind the Digital Service [I’m going to resist its official acronym USDS as long as I can] are sound.
The service released a Digital Playbook with 13 plays [very clever marketing that the release of a playbook comes during the NFL training camp season]. The plays cover things like ensuring end-user needs are met during design and development. There also is an emphasis on testing and delivery, according to reporting by our sister publication FCW.com.
There’s a stripped down TechFAR that can help agencies using existing acquisition regulations to be agile in how they buy products and services.
But as I read the various stories, a little voice – a cynical voice – kept nagging at me in the back of my head. Some of the descriptions made me wonder if they are missing the point.
The Washington Post wrote, “The focus is going to be on helping agencies figure out where their weak points are and how to fix them.”
Really? Do you think any agency doesn’t already know their weak points? Ask any program or project manager why his or her job is so hard and you’ll hear plenty.
There also was a lot of praise for Dickerson, with various publications calling him a guru and a savior of Healthcare.gov.
I’m sure Dickerson’s a great guy and very smart, but the government needs more than a white knight.
Then I read Trey Hodgkins’ quote in FCW. The senior vice president of public sector for the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector called the playbook and the TechFAR good tools, but that the documents really indicate just how much the FAR needs to be reformed.
That’s really the issue. The fundamentals of the system are broken, and playbooks and checklists only put makeup on the pig as they say.
But unfortunately, playbooks and checklists are all we can do in today’s political environment because reforming acquisition just isn’t a sexy issue unless you are bashing contractors as greedy or holding up agencies as incompetent.
In that kind of environment, it’s no wonder that agencies retreat to tried-and-true methods.
Maybe playbooks and checklists are the best we can do right now, but don’t expect them to bring much improvement to acquisitions aside from a fancy pilot project or two.
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:25 AM