Chris Cairns

Transforming U.S. government services in a digital world

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

18F has developed a framework for how it helps agencies with digital transformation efforts and has created a deck, “Transforming U.S. government services in a digital world,” that offers a blueprint for others looking to do this on their own.

18F’s Chris Cairns shares more about the work around this effort.

What’s the background on this service and how did it come about?

The founders of 18F, including myself, believed we could further advance an agency’s digital transformation effort by embedding technology consultants inside their organization. By shipping a cross-functional team, we could help them foster the right conditions for changing their culture around technology, particularly with regards to how they acquire and leverage it.

Several conditions had to be in place for 18F to emerge and work the way we do. GSA was an ideal incubator for 18F and our approach to transforming government technology. GSA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer worked with us to make it easy to work collaboratively and virtually — an important element since much of our team is distributed across the country. GSA’s central office gave us an ideal work environment with open-space facilities and modern technology. Most importantly, we had the backing and support of “enlightened leadership,” who ultimately empowered us.

From our experience, it’s the critical foundational pieces that will help agencies unleash the benefits of fast, agile, human-centered teams and succeed in adopting modern management and digital delivery practices. It’s a lot of plumbing work and we’re here to help. We’re bringing government-wide learning, talent, tools, and culture to build and sustain digital capacity inside agencies.

Who’s using the service now and how are those engagements going?

The service is primarily targeted at Chief Information Officer (CIO) organizations. CIOs are one of the most critical actors in an agency’s journey toward becoming a digital-first organization. An agency is digital first when it habitually makes appropriate use of modern practices and digital technologies to deliver services that are easy, delightful, and secure to use.

We started experimenting with many of the elements of this service nearly two years ago with agencies such as TSA and DOL. We pivoted what we learned from those engagements into a comprehensive transformation solution framework, which is what this slide deck represents. After receiving positive and enthusiastic feedback from over 10 technology executives, we have begun piloting the service with a few CIO organizations.

18F cannot drive an agency’s digital transformation. Ultimately, that responsibility falls on the agencies and their industry partners. Our aim is to help kickstart that process and support them along the way through a comprehensive digital transformation framework.

What are your plans for the future of this?

True to the agile spirit of 18F, we’re going to focus on delivering value to our initial pilot clients and then taking what we learn to make the necessary adjustments. The digitization of government services is inevitable and with the right guidance and tools, federal agencies can more effectively serve their users, the American people. The future of government services is filled with potential and we look forward to working with industry and our partners at the federal and local level to make these ambitions a reality.

Learn more.

Getting started with Agile government

Yesterday, I participated in an Agile Government Leadership panel discussion on “Agile Government 101.”

Fellow panelists included Laura Stanton (General Services Administration), Son Tran, Broadcasting Board of Governors, Elizabeth Raley (CivicActions), Chris Cairns and Robert L. Read (18F).

It was an excellent discussion that went a little beyond the basics, and there were a number of questions we didn’t get to, but overall it’s a helpful introduction that includes some great panelist anecdotes. If you missed the live discussion, you can watch the video and post follow-up questions to the AGL LinkedIn group.

For more on getting started with agile government, check out the Agile Government Handbook.


GSA takes a big step towards baking agile into federal procurement

The U.S. General Services Administration is working to make it easier for agencies to procure agile development services via a government-wide blanket purchase agreement, which could be finalized as early as the end of this year.

GSA initiated the effort with a request for information and an Agile Delivery Services Industry Day tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, January 27, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. eastern time.

According to GSA, the industry day aims to discuss “establishing a new, governmentwide Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA), which will feature vendors specializing in agile delivery services (e.g.; user-centered design, agile software development, and DevOps).”

To get a better understanding each vendors qualifications and understanding for the agile process, the RFI asks each to explain in 500 words how they would improve the federal government business portal, FedBizOpps. Responses are due by January 23.

From the RFI:

To ascertain your agile delivery capabilities, the government is requesting that you describe how you would approach creating a new and improved version of an existing government digital service called FedBizOpps (FBO).

FBO, which you can view at, is used by government buyers to share information on federal business opportunities with the public. The system is intended to serve as the central portal for federal agencies to solicit products and services from commercial vendors in support of their missions. Using FBO, vendors can search, monitor, and retrieve opportunities solicited by the entire federal contracting community.

Based on this brief description of FBO, how would you go about designing, developing, testing, deploying and/or operating a new and improved system that produces such outcomes as user needs being met, risk of overall project failure (in terms of cost, schedule, quality) being mitigated, the architecture being adaptive to change, and taxpayer dollars being spent efficiently and effectively? Please be sure to include a listing of all the labor categories your company would use in this effort.

GSA will start an alpha test phase within “2-3 months” that will include vendors currently on Schedule 70 and apply only to GSA procurement, particularly to help “18F’s burgeoning delivery services team.” Afterwards, within 6-8 months, a beta phase will work to establish a government-wide BPA for procuring agile services.

“To keep pace, software acquisitions need to move at the speed of agile development cycles,” write 18F’s Chris Cairns and Greg Godbout in a blog post announcing the effort. “Ideally, this means less than 4 weeks from solicitation to contract kickoff, and from there no more than 3 months to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP).”

Bonus: RFI tips

Here are a few ideas you can use for your RFI submission:

  • Start with “API first.” FedBizOps desperately needs a more useful way to access the information available, especially newly-posted RFIs and requests for proposals.
  • Push all the front-end code to GitHub, where you’ll publicly address interface issues.
  • For design inspiration, start with FBOpen. Emphasize you’ll make searching easier and less convoluted. If you’re not familiar with this project or its predecessor RFP-EZ, start here.
  • Put all support/FAQs into Zendesk, much like the Federal Communications Commission has done with its new consumer complaint website.