General Services Administration

Code.gov gets a U.S. Web Design System refresh

Screenshot of Code.gov

Code.gov — the platform that makes it easier to find open source code developed by the U.S. Government — announced updates that includes aesthetics aligned with the U.S. Web Design System and better adherence to accessibility standards.

We are thrilled to begin this new chapter of innovation and creativity with you. Our new approach to a definitive online presence provides Code.gov with a differentiated visual identity system to complement updated content and streamlined user resources. By no means, though, does this mean that this website is “done” and will not change. We have said before that “Technology is always in a state of flux…” and we believe in always improving our platform in order to provide a better experience for you. We will continue to review and update key elements of our website as the Internet evolves. This redesign is part of “America’s Code” so that we can offers everyone a chance to fulfill a civic duty on a digital platform, one line of code at a time.

Read more about the updates on the Code.gov blog.

Federal agency blockchain group to convene July 18

BitcoinThe General Services Administration will host an in-person U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum meeting on July 18 in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to facilitate virtual currency adoption within the federal government.

About the initiative and event from DigitalGov:

About the Event

An inter-agency forum for executives across the federal government to learn about advances in Blockchain technology, discuss use cases and set an agenda for working together to evaluate and implement it among our diverse missions.

What You’ll Do

  • Develop, share and discuss practical use cases for Blockchain technology among federal government missions.
  • Identify resource, policy and compliance needs for the effective and efficient evaluation and implementation of Blockchain technology in the federal government.
  • Develop a U.S. Federal Blockchain Atlas and roadmap for the next 6 months on how agencies can collaborate to achieve our goals and support the creation of shared services for Blockchain technology.

The U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum is a program led by the GSA Emerging Citizen Technology program in partnership with the Secretary of State Office of Global Partnerships and GSA Office of Information Technology Category.

Learn more and register.

GSA issues software-as-a-service request for information

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

The General Services Administration has issued a request for information related to the federal government’s use of software-as-a-service.

From the announcement:

Unified Shared Services Management (USSM), with the guidance of the Shared Services Governance Board, is seeking information from industry to understand their capability to provide standardized solutions across administrative services, as referenced in Office of Management and Budget memorandum M-16-11.

The RFI inquires about interoperable and modular approaches to delivering common technology solutions and requests feedback on the viability of the Federal Integrated Business Framework as a documentation source to inform the development of a software-as-a-service offering. The RFI also solicits input on the potential opportunities for public-private partnership funding models.

Full RFI on FedBizOps.

The seeds of a federal government software-as-as-service digital platform?

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

With the release of a new identity management platform, 18F is slowly culling together all the requisite pieces for an easy-to-deploy, cloud-based federal government web management platform.

These include:

  • cloud.gov (“A platform by government developers, for government developers.”)
  • login.gov (“Improving access to government services through a shared authentication platform”)
  • Federalist (“Federalist is a unified interface for publishing static government websites.”)

These components, coupled with the U.S. Web Standards that will allow for a common look and feel front-end theme and templates, the Digital Analytics Program for metrics, its work on security and HTTPS, the General Service Administration (via 18F) is on its way to becoming a full-scale software-as-a-service platform that makes it easy for agencies to launch and maintain web services in-house.

Phaedra Chrousos retrospects federal government digital service

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

After two years of helping lay a new foundation for how the federal government buys, builds and delivers government digital services, Technology Transformation Service Commissioner Phaedra Chrousos announced she is stepping down.

“The creation of the Technology Transformation Service would have not been possible without her vision and leadership,” wrote General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth. “She helped scale 18F from a “minimum viable product” to an organization that agencies recognize as a critical partner in delivering services to the American public.”

I asked Chrousos to share some parting thoughts.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a startup entrepreneur turned political appointee that came into government for a short tour of duty and has been asked to take on a few different roles and titles along the way – three in two years to be exact! My latest role was helping stand up the Technology Transformation Service and my latest title is that of commissioner of that service.

What is the Technology Transformation Service and why is it important?

TTS is home to an evolving arsenal of products and services that federal agencies can use in the massive undertaking that’s underway to repair, rebuild and modernize the government’s technology.

TTS v1.0 is a purposefully experimental organization that permanently houses the Presidential Innovation Fellows, 18F, and the Office of Citizen Services, which holds products and programs like data.gov, the Web Design Standards and FedRAMP. It looks and feels like a startup that’s starting to scale – so it’s always pushing boundaries and feels creatively messy as new processes are continually put in place to support its growth.

TTS v2.0 will be a larger, more powerful, focused arsenal of products and services that are still constantly evolving to meet the needs of chief information officers across federal, state and local governments. Hopefully it will still feel like a startup in spirit, but as an ecosystem it’s reached a certain level of maturity.

Your Twitter bio, “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” What’s government of the past?

When it comes to technology, it feels like the government of the past is absolutely everywhere.

The invisible infrastructure that supports our government and ultimately serves the American public is very fragmented, mostly clunky, often broken and sometimes insecure. As someone coming into government with no previous knowledge of how it operates behind the scenes, it was not just eye opening, but also quite alarming. Then I caught a glimpse of the $80 billion annual price tag associated with all of it – just for the federal government alone – and basically fell out of my chair.

And government of the future?

It’s pretty simple.

The government of the future is one that leverages technology to provide easy to use, secure and effective services to the American public. It’s a government that uses modern technology methodologies to not only get to better outcomes, but also dramatically decrease the cost of technology for the American taxpayer so that a good part of that $80 billion can be better spent on just about anything else.

Let’s do a retrospective. What are the wins?

The biggest wins are the people that make up TTS – they come in to serve as Presidential Innovation Fellows, part of the 18F tech bench, and product managers in the Office of Citizen Services.

Many incredible, talented technologists and innovators leave their lives behind in both the public and private sector every month to join this ecosystem. They join in large part because their patriotism that inspires them to rise to the government’s mission to serve the American public. They also join in some small part because we can offer them an environment that rewards new ideas and experimentation and feels more like a startup than the rest of government.

They are the ones that move the government forward every day.

What’s the biggest hurdle?

Believe it or not, it’s the government itself.

It’s designed in every possible way to reward risk aversion and discourage any kind of experimentation that by definition requires failing small, fast and often. Of course, that’s probably for great reason – most government organizations and services have not only reached maturity but also have a tremendous amount to lose if something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, the effort to modernize government technology is relatively nascent and needs to go through this very important experimental phase. It’s the only way we’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t.

And how are you addressing this?

We’ve taken a few very thoughtful steps to create a safe, experimental space for the team so that they can feel free to test out new ideas in a way that accommodates for failure.

Things like: standing up a monthly ideation and funding process (“the great pitch”) that anyone can pitch ideas to; creating a regular, transparent and inclusive review process for all our products and services; maintaining a flat organization so that those that are working closest with our government partners are not the ones farthest from the decision making; encouraging people to stand up and participate in thematic learning and working groups.

Finally, socializing the idea that failing small, fast and often is not only ok, but necessary – and doing that over and over again.

Changing the government of the past has to take its toll. Personally, how do you handle this?

There’s something about being on a two year sprint rather than a decade long marathon that has made this all not just doable but very exciting.

I liken it to being on a campaign or launching a startup – there’s a lot of work to be done, a very close camaraderie with colleagues, and if all goes to plan, there is usually a well deserved vacation waiting at the end.

I do really admire those that can go on for longer, and especially those that dedicate their lives to it. They deserve a tremendous amount of recognition and respect for moving the government forward despite extraordinary obstacles to execution.

For those who want to win the future, what can they do?

Come in for a tour of duty in the government – a year, two years, a decade – it doesn’t matter. I would love to live in a world where we ask the people we meet where they did their tour of duty in government with the same frequency that we ask where they went to college.

Connect with Chrousos on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Measuring 18F’s value

18FAccording to NextGov, the Government Accountability Office is working on a report related to 18F’s financial operations, and the tone of the article reads as if the current status is less than optimistic.

From NextGov:

The unit, which operates on a fee-for-service basis, has struggled to balance revenue and spending since its founding in 2014 and is currently facing a projected fiscal 2016 shortfall of nearly $15 million, according to a draft GAO audit.

While 18F’s quarterly revenue has grown three-fold since its inception, its expenses have outpaced revenue. 18F is currently spending an average of more than $1 million per month more than it recovers from the use of its personnel and programs. In fiscal 2016, 18F is projected to receive approximately $33 million for its services, but will spend almost $48 million.

I’ve mentioned before my thoughts on giving it time to incubate and hope GAO doesn’t focus solely on deconstructing 18F’s work in a skewed negative light, adding fuel to the government technology peanut gallery’s fire.

Of course, GAO has an important obligation to ensure agencies are operating ethically and fiscally responsible, the tendency to focus primarily on financial shortcomings without taking into account the potential and unrealized added value can be harmful.

Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to holistically quantify the innovation and entrepreneurial contributions 18F has made, including unpaid work that’s been re-purposed by other cities or helped make citizens safer when accessing federal government websites.

It’s very easy, especially in a political environment, and especially for a high-profile organization like 18F, to be critical of its operations. There are a long list of items I’d like to see GAO look into and, right now, 18F isn’t one of them.

I’ve always admired GAO’s work and, hopefully, its assessment is fair and doesn’t reflect the tone of the article (the author of whom I also admire).

Every Silicon Valley startup that sees 18F’s revenue-expenditures ratio and customer adoption rate over the past years would be envious.

As I’ve said before, let’s give 18F some space.

Update

I just received the following message from Atlantic Media (NextGov’s parent company):

As you continue to report on the contentious inspector general audit that revealed the Obama administration’s tech-consulting team 18F may have caused a data breach, I wanted to flag another investigation—this one by the Government Accountability Office— that will shine a light on 18F’s finances.

In a NextGov exclusive, Frank Konkel finds that 18F, which operates on a fee-for service basis, has struggled to balance revenue and spending since its founding in 2014 and is currently facing a projected fiscal 2016 shortfall of nearly $15 million, according to a draft GAO audit. Per its own projections, 18F is not expected to break even until at least fiscal 2018 and according to a source familiar with the draft GAO audit, the report is critical of 18F’s cost-recovery plan, saying it lacks specific goals and measures.

The full report is available here: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2016/06/18f-tech-team-struggles-balance-its-books-soon-be-released-report-shows/128780/

I don’t want to turn this into a bigger issue than it is, or that they’re making, but to get an email “exclusive” with the subject “President Obama’s highly praised tech team is actually losing A LOT of money” is frustrating to see.

While $15 million is a lot of money, I just think journalistic and investigator general time would be best spent on programs that are impacting millions of people who depend on federal government services that costs hundreds of millions (and billions) of dollars and show no hope for progress or success.

18F doesn’t fit into that category. In fact, my bet is that 18F is helping the federal government (and those it serves) save time and money by introducing more sustainable, agile processes, and I hope costs savings is also accounted for in the report.

It’s important for media outlets like NextGov and agencies like GAO to pursue and shed light on oversight issues, but this just feels small potatoes in the bigger scheme of government technology things.

Superpublic wants to supercharge municipal government innovation

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

Earlier this week, the City Innovate Foundation was joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth and the U.S. Department of Commerce to announce a first-of-its-kind Innovation lab to solve urban problems and scale solutions at 50 United Nations Plaza — the birthplace of the U.N.

The 5,000 sq. ft. lab Superpublic unites under the same roof for the first time innovation teams from the private industry, federal, state and city government agencies and from universities. City Innovate Foundation staff will coordinate the activity of member organizations and put on programming that builds capacity among members to solve problems, prototype solutions and create innovative approaches to policies that accelerate change.

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique sat down with GovFresh to share how Superpublic will work and what’s next for the innovation lab down the hall from 18F.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Superpublic is a platform for public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to address the most pressing challenges facing cities.

What problem(s) does Superpublic solve for government or residents/citizens?

To start, we expect to work on three main problems:

Digital services in government: More than ever before, residents now expect services to be available online. The development of new digital services is an opportunity to rethink how we deliver services to ensure every resident has the access they need. The City of SF is looking to replicate the success of 18F and U.S. Digital Service to create new teams within their respective organizations

Smart cities: How we move ourselves and goods around is rapidly changing. We can either embrace and shape these changes or be at the mercy of them. San Francisco has chosen to lead the way by putting people first in developing safer, more equitable and innovative solutions to transportation challenges. The City of SF is working with DOT, DOE, and DOC on advancing smart cities in San Francisco and nationally – specifically on mobility in the near term.

Performance-based procurement: How do we make sure that the money spent by the government delivers tangible results? How can we use procurement terms to cut cycle time and/or improve quality? We will work to advance innovative financing models to increase impact and accountability.

What’s the story behind starting Superpublic?

We were inspired by the example of the Superpublic lab in Paris, which was opened in November 2014 by the 27e Région and a group of innovation professionals (Plausible Possible, Care and Co, Counterpoint), with the City of Paris, the French National State (SGMAP), and a public bank called Caisse des Dépôts.

For us, Superpublic means providing a workspace where city, state, and federal agencies can come together and work on problems facing the Bay Area. San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are all expected to benefit from the work of Superpublic as are agencies that operate at the county, state and federal level.

Superpublic provides space, curates programming, convenes summits, roundtables, and training programs to build capacity so that all parties to the lab (government, private companies, non profits, universities) can work together better.

Superpublic will open its doors July 2016.

What makes Superpublic different than other innovation labs?

Across the globe, cities look to San Francisco as the “innovation capital of the world” – to quote San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. This is the first innovation lab set up by a city government to solve problems prioritized by the city.

The lab, managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, GSA and City Innovate Foundation will break down silos between different layers of government. Superpublic will bring together multiple layers of government in the same location and act as a catalyst for product and service development to drive more responsive and efficient government. Solutions that come out of the Lab will get commercialized by City Innovate Foundation with the objective to be scaled to other cities in the City Innovate Foundation network.

What will a typical day will look like at Superpublic?

The day starts off with a morning coffee session in the community area where new members introduce themselves and open discussions can take place to ensure communication flows freely between representatives from different organizations.

The project teams have dedicated team work spaces which they can configure to their needs to execute their tasks within the overall milestone-based project management method based on Lean Startup for the process and Scrum for technical development work.

The Superpublic Steering Committee through city/state and federal agencies have sourced a list of problem sets through their constituents which get narrowed to a focused list of 3 or 4 problems. These are explored by a taskforce led by City Innovate for a screening process for approval by the Steering Committee. Upon approval, representatives from lead cities, academic, and industry prepare the proposed projects for financial feasibility and scalability to other cities in the U.S.

This now includes formulating the city problem to be solved, developing a user narrative, mapping out the relevant ecosystem, and key skills needed in a project team as well as an estimation of project timeline, cost and possible funding of the effort.

The afternoon will have delegations visiting from other cities to exchange on city problems and discussions how the Superpublic model could be applied to their cities. The approved projects are kicked off by the team taking over their dedicated working space, being celebrated by everybody from the other teams, partners and City Innovate Foundation.

I’m part of an organization that wants to become a member of the Lab, what should I do?

Send an email to concierge@cityinnovate.org stating your name, your organization’s name, and the nature of your interest. A phone number is helpful.

How can those interested connect with you (website, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.)?

You can learn more about Superpublic at www.cityinnovate.org/superpublic and on Facebook and Twitter.

The web numbers behind NASA’s Pluto flyby

Pluto (Photo: NASA)

Pluto (Photo: NASA)

Flying by unchartered planetary territory is a good way to drive traffic to your website.

The General Services Administration’s Digital Analytics Program shared the numbers behind NASA’s web traffic during theJuly 14 New Horizons Pluto flyby and, according to DAP, nasa.gov received nearly 10 million page views and accounted for 42 percent of all government web traffic.

Other numbers:

  • 57 percent of traffic came from 231 countries/territories outside the U.S.
  • New visits accounted for 64 percent of traffic (up from an average of 56 percent)
  • Average session time was up to 4 minutes (from 2:25)

Full post

The future of government technology procurement

SideEffect.ioThe General Services Administration and 18F recently held an open request for quotation related to a new blanket purchase agreement for a federal marketplace for agile delivery services. The transparency throughout the entire process was refreshing and provides a window into the future of procurement as well as what FedBizOpps could and should be.

The RFQ asked companies to provide a working prototype with code submitted in a public GitHub repository that could be viewed, watched, forked or downloaded at any time. Timestamps built into GitHub’s commit timeline publicly exposed when a company began working and when and whether it “submitted” its final version within the allocated timeframe.

The objective of the BPA, according to 18F, was “to shift the software procurement paradigm” from a waterfall-based development model with a long, tedious approach to acquisition that typically favors large, established inside-Beltway vendors to one that encourages small business participation, and that required all companies to work in the open, using GitHub to expose not just the code, but how the teams worked together and documented their efforts.

CivicActions (full disclosure: I work for them) participated in the process, and I played a role in developing parts of the front-end and productizing the end result, which was SideEffect.io, an adverse affect comparison tool that leveraged open data from the Food and Drug Administration’s OpenFDA initiative (GitHub repo here).

Having played a minor role on the team and having an odd appreciation for how government IT leaders are working to modernize technology procurement, the process was fascinating to watch both from how GSA and 18F pushed this out and managed, but also an inside perspective on how one company responded and worked together (FCW’s Zach Noble has a great write-up on how the CivicActions team worked, the tools used and its general philosophy going into it).

My general takeaway is that this is the future of the request for information/quote/proposal process. In the future, much like what I prototyped at OpenFBO, for each procurement request, there will be repo-like tools that fully expose public input and questions, allow internal and external stakeholders to easily “watch” for updates, attach bids or quotes with an opportunity for feedback, all of which would eventually turn into the repo for developing the end product.

As GSA and 18F, and hopefully other federal, state and local agencies, continue to refine this process, whether it’s via GitHub or a Git-like platform, you can be sure this is the future of how government will procure custom-built software and services.

18F starts building pattern library for federal government websites

Government Wide Pattern Library

18F has started building a much-needed federal government-wide pattern library.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a pattern library, it’s a standardized, front-end design style guide for all the components of a website, such as fonts, colors, layout and forms (example: Code for America’s pattern library).

This is an important project in that it (hopefully) begins to set a standard common look and feel for all federal government websites and moves the focus from design to user experience.

If agencies get on board with the standardization, millions of dollars in savings would be realized, not to mention a path for expedited development processes because front-end code can be easily re-purposed and deployed.

Clarification