Meet 18F, the GSA’s bid to change federal IT.
By Mohana Ravindranath, Published The Washington Post: April 20
The group was also formed to advance a collaborative, creative approach to software development, said Greg Godbout, 18F’s senior team lead. The code for FBOpen, and all other 18F projects, is posted publicly online on Github, a software code repository, and the team encourages developers at other agencies to use the code to build new features into their own Web sites.
About a month ago, two staff members from the GSA.gov development team approached 18F, asking how they could add FBOpen’s search capabilities into the GSA’s mobile Web site. Within 29 minutes the team had a version of the site up and running, 18F lead designer Hillary Hartley said. A more traditional development method — requiring a series of meetings between agency staff and IT companies — might have taken weeks or months, according to the team.
And other agencies are using FBOpen’s basic model to develop search engines for other data sources — export opportunities, loan opportunities and the Small Business Innovation Research funds issued by the Small Business Administration, for instance. “The same engine contains all those opportunities,” Godbout said.
But not all agencies are immediately receptive to this agile, collaborative approach, Tangherlini said, so it may take time to validate the 18F model. “I think spending American tax dollars, we have a huge level of accountability . . . to the extent that people are staying true to the existing method, it’s because there’s a certain level of comfort, there’s a certain ability to explain what you’ve done,” he said, adding, “There’s an assumed risk associated with the new path or a different path.”
In 18F’s early stages, the GSA is still determining how to measure whether this new approach is working. One metric, Tangherlini says, is whether agencies are using the product that 18F builds.
“Look, if agencies don’t want to buy it . . . then we’ll pull the plug and try something different,” he said. But he added, “I’m not ready to do something differently. I think this is a useful solution at this time.”