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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Has the IG doomed 18F?

I’ve read with interest the inspector general’s report about 18F, GSA’s IT development and innovation shop.

The group was stood up to operate more quickly and efficiently. It has boasted about getting things done in new and fresh ways. It has been good at small projects, but there have been questions about its lasting impact.

GSA’s IG found several faults in its evaluation. 18F is supposed to cover its costs, but it hasn’t. It has spent more than it has taken in. Its financial projections have been inaccurate. Pretty significantly: Projected revenue for fiscal 2016 was $84.2 million but actuals were $27.8 million.

Meanwhile, staffing has grown from 33 in April 1, 2014, to 201 as of March 24, 2016. 18F and GSA leadership declined to pause hiring earlier this year as a way of breaking even more quickly; demand was too strong for its services.

But while there was demand for services, the IG found that half of the efforts of 18F employees were on marketing, outreach and branding. There also were small projects to create bots – one that paired fellow 18Fers with each other for coffee breaks.

As recently as July, the 18F handbook stated that “Non-billable work is the cultural lifeblood of 18F.”

In their response, the inspector general, 18F and GSA management talked about updating financial plans, improving cost recovering and strengthening internal process. They also make the argument that 18F has proven the value of a “modern approach to delivering technology.” It has worked on 252 projects with 37 agencies.

As I read the IG report, I was struck by one overriding thought – 18F is very much the trendy startup it was modeled to be. It’s lost money. It has plenty of positive spin. It’s suffering real growing pains as more people clamor for what it provides.

The IG report is like the second stage investors coming in and saying, "My god, why are you wasting my money?"

In a twisted way, the IG report validates what 18F was created to do – bring the Silicon Valley start up model to the government market. But 18F can’t remain a start-up and be successful as part of a government agency. It’s not investor dollars, it’s tax payer dollars, so if they want to survive, they have to get their act together.

But time is running out. It is IG reports like this that will only raise skepticism about the long term viability of 18F. I think it can survive the shift to the next administration, but it’ll have to grow up and be something else.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:39 AM


Reader Comments

Wed, Nov 2, 2016

There was a slack notice in the 18F channel that said they did not have any billable work and no work in the pipeline. There was a recommendation to shake the trees and see if they could bill out some discovery. At least the Pixar guy is a gray hair. Maybe he will be able to show the kids how to run a business.

Wed, Nov 2, 2016 JOHN WEILER WASHINGTON DC

18F could be much more valuable if it made some needed adjustments; shift focus from agile development agile acquisition and management , coordinate more closely with agency CIO staff and do a better job of maximizing use of commercial text solutions as required by CCA & FITARA.

Tue, Nov 1, 2016 McLean, VA

How can they justify where they take 3 months to create two pager rfp for 18F BPA and then work has to be done in 2 months and on top their is no real assessment or scoring. Smells like cool kids running a pawn shop and having fun, far away from reality. Private shops run much better way otherwise they don't survive and if they stay like that, you know how many players are changed in the meantime, so how many employees at 18F have been fired and replaced? NONE! so please don't compare with private companies...

Mon, Oct 31, 2016

Well, if Industry organizations don't get to take credit for cost avoidance in those ways the 18F can't/shouldn't either. They've chosen a role that places them in competition with industry, so measure them the same way.

Mon, Oct 31, 2016

I'd like to see a report on how all the companies who spent countless hours on the Agile BPA bidding Pool 1 and 2 were told to kick rocks after they only awarded Pool 3!

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