Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

Fortunately, 18F isn't funded by Congress. Agencies pay us for our services out of their own budgets. As long as we keep delivering good work, our funding is secure.

*I'm an 18F employee.

Except that in theory you are losing money right now?



"Instead of securing enough cost reimbursements from its federal clients, 18F is losing millions."

OP here. "In theory" - most of the stories don't realize we're funded by a fund with billions in revenue, and was net positive in 2016. https://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/152462#ASF

Congress designed the revolving fund with the purpose of spending any funds in excess of costs to help the rest of government be more efficient and effective, as those funds don't naturally return to the US Treasury as they would in other parts of government.

In terms of 18F's performance in both regards, the capital start up funding we've received from the fund has been extremely well spent IMHO, but of course I'm totally biased. I'd look at what we've produced with that $ and let the work speak for itself, especially given how much govt would normally spend on this much information technology: https://github.com/18f

That also only captures things which have an impact in software - we're still working on the best way to represent the fiscal or performance impact of our consulting work.

All that said, of course we can always be more efficient ourselves, and I think the next few years of fiscal reports will show that.

So... does this mean you are (effectively) funded by Congress?

As someone who worked on an open data toolkit here in New Zealand, you also wouldn't have any clarity on "shadow users" either when it comes to non-economic returns.

For our initial prototype, we originally forked your docs repo and heavily modified it which got us up and running quicker than if we had started from scratch!

That said, we ended up switching to another setup later on but still, it would've been painful without your open sourced works!


I assume USDS could be stripped away though, as its under the Executive Office of the President.

EDIT: Not that that's good; its just the environment we're working in now. Hide your staff, hide your code.

OP here. I totally grok your feeling on that, but we've adopted the opposite strategy from Day 1. Extreme transparency to the degree we're allowed, so the public can see the value of the work and defend it if necessary. At the moment, I'm still cautiously optimistic.

> Fortunately, 18F isn't funded by Congress.

Even if 18F is paid out if other agencies budgets, Congress could as easily prohibit those agencies (or GSA itself) from spending any money on 18F. Heck, Congress could directly restructure, break up, or abolish the GSA.

Or, they could exercise the recently-revived Holman Rule and simply cut the pay of every individual (or select individuals) working in 18F to $1/annum. If you work for the Federal government other than in an office with special Constitutional protection, no matter what the notional funding structure of your particular unit, your job, pay, and benefits are not protected against Congressional action, and you should not be misled to think that they are.

I don't think they could go under minimum wage.

Yes, they can. Minimum wage doesn't apply to the federal government to start with, and even if it did Congress could include an exception as part of any legislation that would otherwise violate it.

Do the agencies themselves realize the subtle benefits of UI/UX changes to websites, TLS, etc? I don't know exactly what all 18F does but it seems like those are among the features I see changing (and appreciate).

Certainly. Lots of agencies have to process forms submitted by the public, and when people have trouble filling out forms it makes processing them much more difficult. We've been able to show that better UX leads to better quality information. Like with our work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services https://18f.gsa.gov/2015/09/08/reimagining-the-immigration-p...

Certainly line offices do, although in my experience HQ is in the process of transitioning away from the mindset that IT means MS Word installs and security management. I've been watching a transition from line office hosted CMS to an HQ hosted CMS and it has been informative how off the mark their assessment of what the agency actually does has been.

What is the distinction between a "line office" and HQ?

HQ is a building with highly paid bureaucrats sitting in Washington, DC or its suburbs. A line office would be say a branch of US Immigration and Customs that you deal with at your local airport.

I'm not going to lie; we're all bureaucrats with greater or lesser degrees of pay, although I think we top out at 160k, so by Silicon Valley standards, highly paid is debatable...

Line offices are at the pointy end of the stick where you actually deal with citizens. In my particular case we do a lot of permit issuance and resource management, but yeah think local branch office where you go when you want something.

> Agencies pay us for our services out of their own budgets

I think you should also have a leg of funding direct from Congress to create "universal" applications across the fed. Does NASA need a separate timecard program from the DoD from the NPS? Does OPM need a different training system than the GAO? I would argue that in 99% of the cases, no. I think 18F and the USDS are uniquely setup to standardize and reduce a lot of waste across the fed, but as long as agencies are paying for individual projects I don't see any standardization happening.

That's why all of our work is open source. Agencies are free to reuse work we perform for other partners. Often, agencies will still need help implementing it for their specific needs, but we don't charge for the work we've already done. For instance, we've helped a couple agencies get regulations on the eRegulations platform https://eregs.github.io/ and many are using the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards to speed up development https://standards.usa.gov/.

I think you might be interested in this news from last year: https://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/119166

Agencies headed by Presidential appointees.

Do agencies have discretionary budgets that they can spend on whatever they want? My understanding was that every penny was somehow accounted for and approved by Congress, even if it's buried in fine print.

Accounting for how the government spends money is actually a very difficult problem, but 18F is also working on that. We're helping the Treasury Department implement the DATA Act, which will give the public and government a much better way to track how federal money is spent. https://18f.gsa.gov/2015/06/09/data-act-data-act-explainer/

But yes, agencies have some discretion in how they spend their budgets. Agencies are often mandated to operate a service, but are able to spend money by hiring 18F or private vendors to improve how they deliver that service.

Alright, let's keep it 100. R's in the congress recently ended rules and passed others in order to obfuscate the debt that will be incurred once they abolish obamacare. Also, as said by someone else, R presidents haven't passed balanced budgets. Despite their rhetoric, do you really think the R's care where federal money is spent? In fact, what you are doing has the possibility to expose them to the American people; what you just described is a threat to them.

This is not a dig at the R's, but all of you have to realize the R's do not care about functioning gov't or reducing spending, they just want to pass tax cuts, cut regulations and direct social spending to certain industries. You must realize that 18F's existence is diametrically opposed to that and despite the Medium post, your existence is in danger.

I realize you probably can't comment on this, but there is no way I can imagine all of you don't realize it. A man can only take so much fluffy talk when the truth is right in front of his eyes.

PS When I say all of you, I am directing it at 18F employees.

EDIT: And yes, in light of that, if you are staying put, you are indeed brave and your devotion to your cause is noble.

Shot in the dark, but I would think that budgets are approved by congress, but there needs to be records for every single penny spent for audit purposes.

OP here. Yep - the record keeping is out of this world. Due to the spending clauses of the Constitution, even a penny spent in excess of budget or even without all the proper authorities in place can result in a Constitutional violation, and you need to write a fulsome report to your agency head, Congress, the White House, auditors, etc. I've seen it done for what are effectively rounding errors for the US Govt (a few hundred dollars in the wrong spending 'bucket').

Echoing comments above, the laws/regs are strong, the problem continues to be implementation. Govt fiscal IT systems are some of our worst / most tricky legacy systems to modernize.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact