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Tech Giants Face Off Against 18F (govtech.com)
179 points by woodhull on July 4, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

A friend of mine in 18F was just telling me awesome stories of what they're doing. I remember reading horror stories on Slashdot a dozen years ago of how government IT contractors were paid so much and did all the work because full-timers were supposedly incompetent and wishing there were some way this could change. I'm very happy to see this administration making some proactive changes to attract talented people. 18F is rapidly becoming a highly regarded entity and I believe they give dignity to the term government service, as it should be. I'd rather the contractors have to fight hard to earn my tax dollars. Yes, the contractors have to jump through extra hurdles, but too many take advantage of their position. Yes, it's hard on those who have jumped through many hurdles to now have to contend with a changing landscape, but why should government contracting remain a cushy gig when the rest of us in the private sector have to rapidly adapt all the time? Not all contractors are bad, but it's nice to know 18F is raising the bar for them.

"I remember reading horror stories on Slashdot a dozen years ago of how government IT contractors were paid so much and did all the work because full-timers were supposedly incompetent and wishing there were some way this could change."

I think this is an often repeated phrase that amounts to a political talking point used by people who want the government to outsource more work to private contractors than might otherwise be fiscally prudent.

Yes, I definitely don't want to reinforce that and I do agree that narrative is used to give work to more contractors than necessary (I was just using that to paint a portrait of how people perceive contractors versus government employees).

Someone in the Marines isn't paid a lot in cash for what they do, but they do enjoy well-deserved honor and satisfaction in serving in a mission and other intangibles. I know there's a big difference between military and other government workers (members of the military put their lives on the line a lot more), but I do think that just as a Marine enjoys dignity in their work, it is possible to shift the perception of other government workers and give the positions more dignity by raising recruiting standards, empowering the workers to take on more responsibility and playing a stronger role in fulfilling the mission.

It's probably hard to be proud of your work when you know that at least half of your bosses (congress and a lot of political appointees) passionately hate that the fact that your job exists. I doubt that the quality of people the military hires is much different from the quality but military people know their service is appreciated.

If you care about 18F's ability to continue to do their work, please please please contact your representative about it.

Do you know if there is a specific bill or other measure that needs to be supported? Is it useful to write a general message in support of 18F?

Good question. Maybe someone else here knows more, but the first thing that jumps out at me is to ask your Congressman not to listen to lobbyists that are against the 18F for no valid reason. Whereas some government workers may be hard to fire and take it too easy on the job (a stereotype, I know, but mentioned in case this is a concern for you), the 18F members serve for only a 2-year term which can be renewed once. Performance is high and they've been very busy helping many government agencies in their first couple of years and as far as I can see the agencies need them to really continue pushing a culture change towards more rapid innovation of business processes, etc.

This is a great example of an entrenched incumbent/monopolist backlash against an earnest attempt to cut costs and increase the efficiency of government. This same story happens every day throughout the world in numerous ways, and solving it so the 'good guys' win is in my opinion one of the of the most important things a country can do to improve its institutions.

I've spoken to a number of developers who work in DC, and they pretty much tell the same story: huge tech companies/consulting firms who want to lock in a long-term contract use unnecessarily complex technologies and solutions (I'm looking at you, Java EE) that create big legacy codebases which are very difficult to switch away from, ensuring that the contractor has a job forever. Furthermore, once they've got the government agency 'by the balls' (AKA, the contractor has built a complex, poorly documented monster which only it can understand), it can charge a ridiculous amount of money for maintenance and new feature development.

You have correctly identified that this is a fight against the system dynamics which lead to government waste. Please please please actually contact your representative to give them rhetorical ammunition in the fight against it.

Lots of successful websites use J2EE though. Picking on that seems kind of unfair. It's not like giant codebases written in Ruby or JavaScript or PHP are somehow easier to maintain or switch away from.

You're absolutely right. It's the people involved that make or break the codebase, and transitively, the project itself.

> huge tech companies/consulting firms who want to lock in a long-term contract use unnecessarily complex technologies and solutions

And the small ones often do it by pushing projects to use their proprietary solution.

Often times, you don't even need to use particularly weird solutions. The timeframe for some of these projects is so long that whatever you pick going in is going to be obsolete or at least obsolescent on go-live. But that's fine, either locking in maintenance or assuring a subsequent modernization effort.

It's hard to read this and not get the impression that firms used to lucrative government contracts are simply not keen at new competition and are lobbying to protect their privledged position. Despite the fact increased competition benefits the government and tax payers.

That's exactly how I read it, myblake. I would hope that somebody on the House subcommittee said to the lobbyists something like "You, the lobbyist representing ITAPS, I see in my notes that ITAPS members include, among others, IBM, Deloitte, SAP, Xerox, and Microsoft. The 18F group has a staff of 185. If the companies you represent feel they can be out-performed by a staff of 185 then why have we been giving them billions of dollars all these years? Are they, in reality, completely incompetent?"

And regarding the conflict of interest issue, YC user zacharycohn, who says he works for 18F, wrote "As a government organization, not a private company, we can't respond to RFPs. No one is really sure where this claim that we help write and then respond to rfps comes from, but it's not true."

I don't see where the conflict of interest would come anyway even if 18F was bidding on contracts. If I ask a plumber for an estimate to fix my sink, and then decide to do the job myself, I don't see anything unethical there. The plumber might not like that I'm capable of doing the work myself, but there's nothing wrong with it. I could see a problem if the 18F staff stood to receive massive raises or bonuses if they decided to reject a vendor's bid and do the job themselves. But I don't think that's the way it works for government employees. At least not government employees at that level. The higher ups do make a good profit on campaign contributions or outright bribes. And that's why the software industry lobbyists will be listened to.

I don't live in the US but this would annoy me greatly.

Having worked in big companies where consulting firms like IBM and Deloitte have really screwed things up one thing has become abundantly clear to me.

Building yourself is always better. There are really no caveats to this. A team hired by you is a team aligned with you. A firm servicing a consulting contract will always milk the contract for whatever they can get, especially when they often do really sly things like settle for a lower initial cost but build in onerous clauses that drastically blow out costs for all sorts of reasons.

If anything they should expand 18F/USDS and eliminate the buy-first policy in favor of build-first. Only go to vendors when it's just not feasible to build it with the resources available.

You do understand that the reason the government uses contractors is specifically because they do NOT want to hire software engineers for projects that do not last more than a year or two, similar to how most private companies now operate? It is incredibly hard to lay off federal workers, not to mention a typical GS14 will make more than a good dev after adding in federal benefits, pension, etc.

Yes some of the big boys are wasteful and overpriced, but I can ensure you that the federal government itself would be 5x worse, especially since, in DC, at least, the typical GS level employee has absolutely no experience in software engineering, and many times less authority to make good decisions.

Anyway, I've seen a few of these types of enterprises sprout up in the last 5 or 6 years in DOD land. They are sometimes referred to as 'boutiques' in contrast to the big players like BAE, Northrop, Lockheed, etc. They tend to have much younger engineers, SV type office environments, and a lot of hubris.

I'm currently making a good salary via cleaning up their MongoDB, Node, and bloated AngularJS messes that never performed half as well as the old systems running Java and a real RDBMS.

I've been in leadership positions in self-sustaining, non-Federal IT service delivery orgs.

Government uses contractors for lots of reasons -- many of which are more about shifting risk/accountability.

Operating in a unionized environment is challenging because of the inability to fire, but that's more a leadership issue than a cost issue. For most of the infrastructure services we built, during the growth phase, we'd be 25% FTE cost (including benefits), 25% contractor cost, and 50% hardware and software, with the mix depending on the service. Software projects had more contractor cost, and some specific, high skill infrastructure areas had more contractor cost.

The key to a sustainable service is distinguishing build/grow from operate. When the service is in a operate/steady state phase, the government employee staff should be running it 100%, and bringing in SME contractors as needed. That's how you operate effectively.

As you do this stuff, you build a cadre of smart employees who develop the ability to build more and be flexible. You never run out of projects. By owning the services and processes, you save money unless you're totally inept.

Projects only last a few years, so it is hard to hire good devs. Because you can't hire good devs it makes mediocre body shops look appealing. Sounds like a pattern for a death-spiral. Rather than paying wasteful and overpriced contracting shops, such as the ones that employ you, perhaps what is needed is an organization, such as 18F, than can maintain a core of competent devs and build infra and tooling that works across orgs. If the project is short-term then the contracting shop that should be used as a first choice is 18F, and only if they cannot hit the target or specialist development work is needed do they put out a request for an outside party.

This is precisely what the UK's Government Digital Service does - they've got a team of experienced, motivated, technical staff who's job is to assist other parts of government build and manage technical services. They've got teams dedicated to common infrastructure such as payment processing or notifications, and other teams who are working on specific projects, either building themselves or assisting those departments in building their own digital teams to do so.

Australia's Digital Transformation Office[0] is growing into something similar too.

All three of them are using Cloud Foundry as their platform. By way of disclaimer, I work for Pivotal, which is the leading donor of engineering to Cloud Foundry.

[0] https://www.dto.gov.au/

> It is incredibly hard to lay off federal workers, not to mention a typical GS14 will make more than a good dev after adding in federal benefits, pension, etc.

Do you have some more information on this? To my uneducated eye, it looks like GS14 (with benefits) is substantially less than a good software dev would make in the private sector. I would be very interested in a government job if I am incorrect.

Fed benefit programs are usually better (lower deductibles, larger provider network) than what a private company going through Carefirst or another provider can get. Depending on how high up you go and how long you stay in, the pension can become very lucrative, in addition to a 5% full match 401(k) starting from day 1.

Granted the salary at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels are on the lower end than compared to Silicon Valley, but it's actually around what an engineer with similar experience can get in the DC/NoVA area, in my experience.

Not to mention that it's basically impossible to get fired as a GS unless you royally screw up. Usually this means committing a felony outside of work, or committing serial sexual harassment in the workplace, etc.

I agree, it is better to have the government do their own websites rather than go outside. The only thing is the allegations seem to be that 18F is helping government agencies draft up procurement contracts and then bidding on the same contracts it helped draft.

The article says that 18F is alleged to be:

> acting as both a procurement policymaker and as a tech competitor

This seems like a severe conflict of interest in which they would write procurement contracts favoring themselves. I would be okay with it if they just made 18F the site builder and didn't have them compete with private companies on tender, but if the allegations are to be believed, that doesn't seem to be the case, it seems like 18F is a federal agency bidding against private contracts.

As a government organization, not a private company, we can't respond to RFPs. No one is really sure where this claim that we help write and then respond to rfps comes from, but it's not true.

*I work for 18F.

My guess is that the folks bitching about you guys are extrapolating from the "standards" that 18f produces, and spinning that into the RFP thing.

Contractors hate standards, because they scope what they can sell. If you make a simple statement like "use Git for source control", the vendors want to be able to contest that decision, or have the decision made in some sort of "open" form where they get to lobby for some other standard.

Is that really any different than any company's IT department figuring out what needs to get done and then, afterwards, deciding whether to insource or outsource the work?

If the "conflict of interest" biases taxpayers - awesome. Government procurement is supposed to be 100% bias towards helping taxpayers.

The difference is that with a normal company you can't hire a lobbyist to affect the outcome.

Not a lobbyist exactly, but I've seen more than a few contracts given to the golf buddies of senior management.

You can definitely rig the corporate IT game.

> more than a few contracts given to the golf buddies

When people talk about access to high-paying jobs and powerful positions being biased towards upper-middle class whites and Asians, this is usually what they mean (though not for the reasons you may presume). For most choices, there's a threshold above which the remaining choices are effectively equal. If you have a myriad of options that are all competent enough to do the job and in the same price range, how do you go about choosing one? At a certain point, the act making a choice and moving forward is more import than which one you chose.

There may be 10,000 shops qualified to create whatever it is you need. If you happen to know and trust one of them, and the price range is within budget, why bother investigating the other options? The time investment required would be huge, but the payoff wouldn't be very high.

Of course, overstating your needs and/or your budget to benefit someone you know is wrong - it's corruption. But, there's a very similar outcome that's a natural extension of human behavior. It's not detrimental to the parties involved, but may be to the diversity of society as a whole. All else being equal, of course you're going to choose someone you trust, and your friends are probably some of the people you trust most. Since you typically meet your friends while living your everyday life, they're probably people you have a lot in common with - people who had access to the same schools, jobs, and neighborhoods you did.

At first blush, if you need something done and there's a qualified friend who can help you, there's nothing wrong with that. However, after enough iterations of powerful people hiring their friends, we may end up with something resembling an aristocracy - a bunch of powerful friends always hiring each other, and another bunch of non-powerful people who can't get their feet-in-the-door.

Isn't this the classic trap? Who best make baking regulations than top bankers. Who best to legislate oil then the oil industry. Who's best at defining technical procurement than your technical team?

Has there ever bean a great answer to this? Is it a conflict of interest or an area of domain expertise.

Your comparison is incorrect. The first 2 examples are external industries while the third is an internal agency. A better question would be "Who's best at defining technical procurement than industry giants like IBM?"

The answers are that the SEC and the Fed are best for making banking regulations. The EPA is best for regulating the oil industry. And 18F is best for regulating the tech procurement process.

I think it makes perfect since to have an internal team that can help flesh out the details of a project and give an estimate of cost to develop in house. Not a conflict at all.

The Federal government is a single legal entity.

How can it be possible for an entity to have a conflict of interest in deciding to do something itself?

Are you sure the Federal government is a single legal entity? If so, how can Congress sue the President? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Repre...

The congress is a seperate branch of government.

Ah, so you meant the executive branch is a single legal entity.

It seems completely alien to me that a portion of the Federal government drafting and bidding on Federal contracts for another part could be seen as engaging in an unethical conflict of interest. Would anyone make the same claim if a department in GE was competing against IBM on a GE project said department helped spec out?

Huge potential conflict here unless the 18F consulting team that drafts the requirement is firewalled away from the bidding team.

I think once they clarify this, it would be all good.

Dalerus, as Zacharycohn says, the 18F group doesn't respond to RFPs. But I personally don't see that it would be a conflict of interest if they were allowed to respond. I could see a conflict of interest if the 18F group was a private company employed by the government and allowed to both draft requirements and bid on contracts. I wouldn't want to see Microsoft drafting requirements and bidding on them. But 18F is part of the government.

Consider this scenario: The 18F team works with the Secretary of the Interior's office to draft requirements for a system needed by the Department of the Interior. They gather the requirements and conclude "This isn't a huge system. We can do this ourselves." Do the individuals working at 18F get raises or massive bonuses for doing the work, or do they continue to receive the same civil service graded salary they've always been receiving? It is certainly in the 18F department's interest to have work and continue to exist, but I don't see any huge payoff to the head of 18F the way there would be if a large company got a contract.

Or, to sort of repeat a scenario I offered earlier in this conversation, my wife wants our bathroom remodeled. I interview her and find out what she wants and write it all down. I go over it with a few companies that do bathroom remodeling. I receive their bids. I conclude that I'm capable of doing the work myself more quickly and more cheaply. I award the "contract" to myself. Where's the conflict of interest?

I posted that before they responded. Good to hear they don't respond to RFPs.

The point of RFPs are to allow fair competition between vendors. Also to allow the government agencies to compare bids apples to apples and score accordingly. You're example is fine as long as you are providing the other bidders with the same information. It breaks down if you have inside information that other bidders don't have.

For example, most RFPs don't include budget info, but often a large portion of the scoring is based around the budget. If 18F had worked to create the criteria, knowing information that wasn't public to bidders, then won said bid, that's where the conflict comes in.

But this is all for not, as 18F has clarified that they don't do this, which is great. I'm all for better requirements, transparency, and lower government spending.

I bid on a lot of RFPs and the process needs fixing for sure. Anything tobreduce the amount of work I need to do to draft a bid is welcomed. Goverment bids take an insane amount of man hours on our part.

Love the work 18F is doing in this space.

This doesn't happen. Not really sure where the source claim comes from, but we don't respond to RFPs

*i work at 18F.

Good to hear. I figured as much.

that awkward moment when you just worked on a project in a big company that was really screwed up by IBM and Deloitte and you see that you and the poster appears to be from the same country and you wonder if you actually know each other IRL but not on hacker news...or if that's just what they're doing everywhere :P

Or in other words, I agree with you.

/P.S my depressingly-joke-like-consultants may or may not have just moved on to KPMG... am I hitting too close to home and do i know you? :P

in many cases this makes sense and I agree (also, gives us inhouse devs actual work :)). But - there are cases where this would be immensely stupid decision.

One example out of many - small(ish) bank using their core banking platform (package) - to keep up with regulators, changing markets etc. they would have to create super-complex system with big internal team, evolve it, secure it, fix it etc. One serious bug can bring you literally down.

Or you can buy a packaged software, customize it yourself and you have big vendor's guarantee that SWIFT messages will be delivered and won't get screwed up.

Usually only few, massive banks do these themselves. If they do, they need to have big IT department. I am talking about companies with 5-50 IT people in total, managing everything.

Support provided by the big consulting shops (IBM, ATT, HP, etc) is worse than useless. It is such a relief when I get to deal with a customer that actually does their own IT.

There is a nuance here that many of you are missing. Up until 18F, the government procurement process was so byzantine that navigating it was core competency of a government contractors and one of their main competitive advantages.

What the lobbyists are complaining about is that 18F doesn't have to go through that process while everyone else does. OR more specifically, they believe that 18F is skipping the process but they don't know because of lack of transparency.

They want the playing field to be even -- either make 18F follow all the same rules or allow them to skirt the same rules.

Part of the reason those government contracts are worth so much is because of all the forms and paperwork you have to file just to get one.

So the issue isn't as black and white as all of us engineers want it to be.

Honestly, I'm all in favor of dropping all the regs for the contractors, but the downside to that is that the regs were put into place to stop corruption -- i.e all the contracts were just going to the (typically white rich male) friends of the government agents. A lot of those government regulations are there to make sure that women and minority owned businesses get some of those contracts (although there is a ton of corruption around pass through entities there, but that's a different issue).

I was under the impression that 18F follow processes as required for the project budget. If 18F is working a $500k job, there is a lot less process and paperwork than a $5m job.

If a "legacy" provider makes a particular project into a $5m job, and 18F see it as a $500k job, then that aint 18F skipping processes.

There are ways legacy contractors can "skirt the rules" by doing a "demo" and then completing the project while staying under the discretionary budget limits.

Yes that's true but what they are complaining about is that the process isn't transparent enough for them to know that is happening.

Also related is the fact that the admins at 18f are paid for by the government and so their cost isn't included in the project budget whereas the private contract needs to pay for the staff that processes the paperwork within the project budget.

To be honest, I don't particularly like anti-discrimination laws and the like.

wow! ok I am not even sure if there is a way to refute this without sounding angry...like, what part of anti-discrimination laws don't you like? the fact that marginalized groups can have equal access to gov contracts?education? healthcare? housing? please elaborate....

When they had the affirmative action proposition on the ballot in California there were a lot of people against, and a lot of those people were the very minorities the law was intended to help.

The main argument against it was that it tainted their success. What I mean is, for example, if a black person got into college, everyone would always question if they were truly qualified or if they only got in because they were black.

The other big argument against it is that it was fixing the wrong problem. You're fixing the roof when the foundation is crumbling. They argued that the affirmative action had to happen much earlier, in elementary and middle school, not college admissions.

So those are some of the arguments people make against it.

And another one specifically against government contract anti-discrimination is the thing I mentioned above, about the pass through problem. A minority will start a business, get a government contract, and then just pay a non-minority business as a subcontractor to do all the work, so they're basically just skimming off the top. So yes, a minority gets some money, but it's basically just a government handout.

I also dislike anti-discrimination laws in general though. I think a good compromise would be to limit them to certain kinds of jobs. This also reminds me of wrongful termination lawsuits, and anti-discrimination happens to be one of the reasons. I have been thinking about Yishan-style CEOs for a while now.

Gov contractors are pissed that the government can build some of its own systems? HA!

The first job I had out of school was on a government contract. The gov employee that was suppose to oversee the technical decisions made was even less experienced than I was and worked about as hard as his salary suggested. Needless to say, our instructions were often to meet the letter of the contract whether it accomplished the intended goal or not. 18F's experience has long been needed.

I recently helped meet an RFI to be considered for the pre-qualified vendor pool for the California project mentioned in the article. At least one cool thing that 18F inspired is that all of the vying vendors' prototypes (developed as an unpaid trial task) are located and indexed on GitHub. You can decide for yourself whether the big established players or the new, more nimble outfits produce better prototype work: https://github.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=chhs.

Lets see: java, javascript, java, java, javascript, and PHP.

Yup, about what I'd expect from gov contractors.

Unreal. That was one of most one-sided pieces I've ever read of an attack on innovation within government. 18F is doing great work. They're pretty transparent, too, given they publish lots of their activities and reasoning. Nobody taking bribes either that I'm aware of. Whereas, the "lobbyists" and "representatives" in question are either delivering or taking bribes from big companies to ensure they get contracts to continue sucking money out of taxpayers for nothing. This organized, outdated corruption resisting something that threatens it. Of course, the article doesn't report on that angle which is more important than anything policy-related.

Thing is, even the corruption aspect could be done better in a win-win way if they tried. They can still rake in the big profits on government systems. Just act as main contractors that interface with those government entities, subcontract out work to groups 18F would encourage, get good results, painlessly integrate it due to subcontractors' talent, and then deliver it to government with 30-50% profit for doing nothing. Continue to pull profits due to support/licensing. This has worked for defense contractors, including those named, for decades with subcontractors just using outdated or conservative methods. It could work on the newer approaches as well. They might as well go all in on such a better form of corruption as them loosing contracts due to efforts like 18F is only a matter of time. First mover advantage suggests they lock-in a new strategy immediately.

Note: Not that I prefer corruption. I just know it's not going away in an apathetic "democracy." So, I recommend stuff the corrupt parties might actually adopt vs something that eliminates their profits and re-elections respectively.

So basically putting some competent tech people in charge of government technology has resulted in a cracking down on waste, fraud, abuse and general stupidity. And this is a bad thing because...?

What is good for society isn't necessarily good for an individual.

Here in Germany they often think about cracking down on private health care. But one of the arguments against it is "There are people living from sellings such insurances!"

Just a quick note for folks interesting in joining 18F: it may be a much more fun place to work as engineer in the government, but it's still the government.

You start off with 2 weeks of paid leave accrued per year, and it'll be at least 15 years (last time I checked) of employment before you're up to 4 weeks per year. This pales in comparison to contracting shops in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area, where the smallest I've seen is 4 weeks for brand-new employees. Over the years I've seen more and more switch to unlimited PTO.

More likely than not, you will inevitably have to deal with a "govvie" who prides one's self on doing nothing all day and getting paid more than you for it, simply because of seniority. This might sound like hyperbole, but after 6 years as a DoD contractor and getting fed up with all the bureacracy, I left for the fully private sector and I haven't looked back since in 2 years. YMMV.

at least 15 years (last time I checked) of employment before you're up to 4 weeks per year.

Except you can't get there, because you can't work at 18F for more than four years. Or at least that was what I was told when I looked into it last year.

(I have nothing against 18F, by the way -- if it's something you're interested in you should definitely look into working there, and some awesome people I know are currently there)

Let me get this straight. Government contractors are concerned about the lack of transparency of 18F/USDS and also that they're developing capabilities that the incumbents cannot possibly offer and are asking for more regulation? Funny considering how byzantine and convoluted myself and others have found it to start contracting for the government despite the best of our intentions that would require incredible amounts of overhead compared to even an enterprise software vendor relationship contract when you're a 2-person company (you typically wind up sub-contracted under a massive prime contractor anyway, and that removes a lot of your political weight immediately while favoring the big one). Isn't one of the best things you can do for the federal government is to be accommodating and flexible to their needs in their best interest as a guiding principle? There's some pretty serious cognitive dissonance happening.

There's also a false dichotomy that people get the impression that government contractors have traditionally gotten a cushy job - this is not the full story. Smaller contractors constantly are folding or being forced to sell due to how difficult the market is to negotiate now as a small company, particularly for defense (I am shocked that the article only cites $80 Bn for government contractors pretending that defense contractors don't exist - just add up Lockheed and SAIC alone and you'd get far, far beyond that). One of the top reasons for companies folding is simply loss of budget into exploratory programs that can justify more "cutting edge" technology such as Hadoop-based or Spark-based analytics stacks and HTML5 instead of ColdFusion based user facing applications. After having worked for and alongside some great smaller contractors that just couldn't hack it, I'm pretty much done with government at this point though and would rather let the next generation of engineers that are more hopeful and nowhere near as disenchanted as myself show up.

I think 18F / USDS limiting the service times is a Good Idea though because it can limit the amount of negativity that can accumulate from just a few engineers having poor experiences. Furthermore, this kind of "term limit" is a great way to prevent entrenchment by any entity working with the government. Unfortunately, many key initiatives are simply too important not to get the government entrenched and a long-term relationship to exist (granted, I'd also argue that the government should simply own these outright instead of attempting to half-ass privatize, which leads to political models closer to Mussolini's ideas of fascism).

> Let me get this straight. Government contractors are concerned about the lack of transparency of 18F/US

No, I believe they are complaining about the transparency of 18F (e.g. blanket purchasing requirements, allowing open source, etc).

1. Make government more screwed up 2. Complain that the government is screwed up 3. Get a sweet contact to privatize something 4. Profit!


I once had to call the help desk for a US government system. They were actually surprisingly responsive and helpful, on a weekend even. After speaking a bit of technical jargon the person on the other end of the line understood that I wasn't an idiot and did indeed have a real issue. I asked if anyone else had such a problem with the system and the response was:

"Sir, this is a government IT system and it works about as well as you'd expect a government IT system to work." We both laughed. I'm happy the people at 18F are making progress in changing the validity of that stereotype.

18F is still very small at 185 and the headcount includes the Presidential Innovation Fellows program; at the end of 2014, the total headcount was 95.

Source: https://fcw.com/articles/2014/10/27/18f-consulting-group.asp...

This is great. This is how you know you're doing things right. All they have to do now is avoid becoming the thing they're currently fixing. Every institution at some point becomes a propagator of the problem it was meant to solve but 18F seems to be a bunch of smart folks so maybe they can avoid that fate.

Folks who believe in 18F and want it to continue the work it is doing: please please PLEASE actually write to your legislators and let them know that you are their constituent, that you are a tech worker, and that you support it. Unless you do, they will think that it is some niche issue that the general public doesn't care about. When that happens, the only things legislators have to base their decisions on are:

1) Their own (non-existent) expertise in software development and procurement.

2) Their advice of whatever experts they can find.

3) The outcome of this hearing by the House Oversight Comittee: https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/18f-and-u-s-digital-serv... and follow-up hearings

And what #2 really means is lobbyists, paid for by these same contractors. They will present themselves as the voice of the industry and unless a bunch of actual software engineers speak up, legislators would have every reason to believe them.

So please, find your congresscritter and let them know that you care about this: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

Especially do this if you live in the district of one of the members of the house oversight committee: https://oversight.house.gov/subcommittee/full-committee/

- Carolyn Maloney of NY-12, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and the east side of Manhattan

- MARK DESAULNIER CA-11: Just west of Berkley

- William Lacy Clay of MO-1, Greater St Louis

- Stephen Lynch of MA-8, Boston and South Shore

- Jim Cooper of TN-5, Nashville and some areas to the west

- Gerald E. Connoly of VA-11, suburbs between Arlington and Manassas

- Matt Cartwright of PA-17: Scranton, Schuylkill, and Munroe

- Tammy Duckworth of IL-8: Northwest Chicago

- Robin Kelly IL-2: South East Chicago

- Brenda Lawrence MI-14: A weird gerrymander northish of Detroit but also the lake coast

- Ted Lieu CA-33: A wide swath of pacific coast near Venice Beach

- Bonnie Watson Coleman NJ-12: Princeton, Trenton, and environs

- Brendan F. Boyle PA-13: North and Northeast of Philadelphia.

- Peter Welch for the entirety of Vermont

- Michelle Lujan Grisham NM-1: Albuquerque and areas southeast of it.

- Trey Gowdy SC-4: Spartanburg and Greenville area

- Mark Meadows NC-11: Asheville and the blue ridge mountains

- Jim Jordan OH-4: a weird gerrymander northwest of Columbus and south of Cleveland

- John Mica of FL-7, north of Orlando

- Michael Turner of OH-10, north of Cincinnati

- John Duncan TN-2: Jefferson city and area around it.

- Tim Walberg MI-7: Rural area and suburbs south-west of Detroit.

- Justin Amash MI-3: Grand Rapids and rural areas between it and Lansing. (frame all arguments from a libertarian perspective)

- Blake Farnthold TX-27: Corpus Cristi, Lockhart, and a bunch of gulf coast.

- Cynthia Lummis, for the entirety of Wyoming

- Thomas Massie KY-4: A weird gerrymander north of Lexington and south of Cincinnati

- Ron Desantis FL-6: Daytona Beach area

- Mick Mulvaney SC-5: Rock Hill and rural area north of Columbia

- Ken Buck CO-4: the eastern 3rd of the state

- Mark Walker NC-6: Greensboro and rural areas north of Durham & Winston-salem

- Rod Blum IA-1: Cedar Rapids and the areas in the northeast of the state.

- Jody Hice GA-10: Rural area between Atlanta and Augusta

- Steve Russel OK-5: Oklahoma City, Seminole, and a bunch of rural area around that.

- Buddy Carter GA-1: The southeast corner of the state and atlantic coast

- Glenn Grothman WI-6: rural area north of Madison and Milwaukee

- William Hurd TX-23: El Paso and all the area between it and San Antonio

- Gary J. Palmer AL-6: A weird gerrymander of the rural area surrounding Birmingham

- Paul Gosar AZ-4: Prescott and the western border of the state.

- Scott Desharlais TN-4: The south-central part of the state. Areas Northeast of Chattanooga.

- Eleanor Holmes Norton: DC

- Stacey E. Plaskett: US Virgin Islands

> - Carolyn Maloney of NY-12, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and the east side of Manhattan

Sorry but I live in Congresswoman Maloney's district and this is not an accurate description of her district [0].

In Brooklyn, NY-12 includes Greenpoint and only a sliver of Williamsburg. Brooklyn Heights and most of Williamsburg falls in NY-7 (Nydia Velazquez).

In Queens, which you left out entirely, NY-12 includes Long Island City, Astoria (minus Ditmars/Steinway) and parts of Woodside.

In Manhattan, NY-12 extends to areas that are decidedly not "east side," namely Midtown and half of Chelsea. Oh, and it also includes Roosevelt Island, but everybody forgets about Roosevelt Island.

Getting these things right is hard, especially with redistricting every 10 years, so I recommend linking to a congresscritter lookup page instead [1]. Certainly better than bungling the very first entry in a big list of representatives and their districts.

[0] https://maloney.house.gov/about/new-yorks-12th-congressional... [1] http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

> Sorry but I live in Congresswoman Maloney's district and this is not an accurate description of her district [0].

Respectfully, does any government agency release congressional district maps as Google Map overlays? Or are such things limited to congressmen who, e.g., represent the most affluent neighborhoods of New York? (I note there is only one such person given in the list, which would make your recommendation ineffective.)

My recommendation was a zip code to congressperson lookup tool. I linked to one such tool hosted on house.gov. Did you find it unsatisfactory?

As to your weak attempt to make this about class, I'll point out West Virginia's congressional district Google Maps overlay: http://www.sos.wv.gov/elections/Vote/Districts/Pages/Distric...

Or is West Virginia too rich for you? I can find more, I just google searched that and found it in 30 seconds. It seems you don't have the time to do your own research but you do have the time to make inflammatory comments.

> Did you find it unsatisfactory?

It does not give descriptions or representations, given congressional districts. It requires a completely disjoint input: postal districts. So unless you recommend a counterpart district-to-ZIP lookup tool, I can't see how it's useful for a description of districts because you still need to know which ZIP codes are within it to do so. Strange that the webapp doesn't use permalinks, or allow unique identifiers of districts as a search variable, no? This makes it largely unuseful for this contextual district-to-(neighborhood-level)map/description requirement.

> As to your weak attempt to make this about class, I'll point out West Virginia's congressional district Google Maps overlay

Well, it was more of a statement about using anecdotal examples which are not representative of congressional office websites. (It could be a statement about class, but this was not my point.) It's obvious the offices are doing these maps themselves because there exists no viable alternative, and it still appears uncommon for the offices to do so. While my remarks may be inflammatory, it is nonetheless evident that your suggestion to direct the users to congressional office websites (or dozens of unaffiliated and state and local websites), as well as a ZIP-to-district tool, would be ineffective in this context.

The point wasn't to help OP generate a list of congressional district descriptions, because that's useless in general and nobody wants that. Except maybe you I guess.

The OP had a list of names of congresspersons in a committee (useful) and wanted to help their audience determine if they were represented by members of that committee (useful). Most politically active individuals know the name of their congressperson or at least the name of their district, so they were already satisfied by the original list. For those that don't know who their congressperson is, they want to know who their congressperson is, not read a list of geographical descriptions of congressional districts. Which is why I recommended a tool to look up one's congressperson.

You seem to be focusing very heavily on a different problem that nobody cares about, namely how to create precise descriptions of congressional districts based on geographical landmarks. If you really want a tool that generates precise descriptions of congressional districts, by all means go make one, but I don't know who would want such a tool other than yourself.

Thank you. I was just going through the maps on Wikipedia and I'm not from NYC so I had to give a cursory description.

I get it, and please understand I didn't want to make it about you being bad at collecting the data - it's really hard to get right especially when districts change often. NYC in particular has very fine-grained political geography, and I'm sure that's not a problem for many districts.

That openstates URL seems to be for state legislators, at least in Texas. Use this for your national representatives:


Derp. I thought I remembered it also coming up with Lamar Smith back when I lived in 78704.

Thank you

I work for a mid sized contracting company (think Deloitte but much smaller) and 18F has been such a breath of fresh air. Working (well, dealing) with a group of competent people who are setting modern goals in such an terribly outdated environment is awesome.

18F is pushing my company to invest more in real technologies rather than Salesforce for everything. This is going to have a ton of great effects on my company and seemingly the industry in general.

"lobbyists from the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) alleged that 18F is hindering profits"

Why should I care about that? Why should anyone who's not those companies care about it? If 18F is making it chalet for the government to do these things, that's good for everyone else.

Can anyone explain to me what a "buy first" policy is? Is this the same as no-bid contracts?

If history is any guide, the entrenched players will step up their lobbying efforts and the current system will be preserved. In Washington money comes first, party comes second and the people you are supposed to represent come dead last.

Right now, 18F is primarily a product delivery team within FedGov, but -- due to the volume of work they're receiving -- they've started a process to prequalify a small number of vendors to take on work they can't. "Buy first" would flip the script and force them to outsource to federal contractors their projects as the default option, or else get them out of the procurement side and force them to compete with contractors for work from contracting agencies.

"buy first" means to have a policy of not doing it in-house unless there is no other option. In other words, they want 18F to subcontract out the work unless no one is able to meet their requirements. Whether this is a actually a good policy for a government to have is not at all clear to me.

It's not. It removes the ability to look at a situation, and come up with the best solution for it. Sometimes it's better to outsource, sometimes it's better to do it yourself.

Sure it's a terrible policy.

But that's never how it's presented. It's presented as "Why does the government need a software shop? Isn't this just yet more government overreach and unfair meddling with the free market?"

So, y'know, next time you see someone arguing along those lines, remember the real argument they're making is "this has the potential to help people and save taxpayer money, but it would cut off a fat government check to me or my buddies, so I have to find a moral argument against it".

If they are forced to do "buy first" things will just continue as usual. You can't outsource well if you don't have a strong technical foundation in-house.

This is the most definitive statement I have seen that 18f is working. I wasn't sure before, but now I'm sure.

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