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.
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.
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.
And the small ones often do it by pushing projects to use their proprietary solution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*I work for 18F.
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.
If the "conflict of interest" biases taxpayers - awesome. Government procurement is supposed to be 100% bias towards helping taxpayers.
You can definitely rig the corporate IT game.
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.
Has there ever bean a great answer to this? Is it a conflict of interest or an area of domain expertise.
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.
How can it be possible for an entity to have a conflict of interest in deciding to do something itself?
I think once they clarify this, it would be all good.
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?
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.
*i work at 18F.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yup, about what I'd expect from gov contractors.
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.
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!"
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.
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)
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).
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
"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.
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
Sorry but I live in Congresswoman Maloney's district and this is not an accurate description of her district .
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 . Certainly better than bungling the very first entry in a big list of representatives and their districts.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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".