In the aftermath of the tumultuous rollout of Healthcare.gov, the White House took action and established the U.S. Digital Service. The team, made up of subject matter experts from various areas of the tech and government sectors, has produced a list of best practices for government IT acquisitions called the U.S. Digital Services Playbook. So why is this important? A bunch of nerds from Silicon Valley and DC got together for some vanity project (probably hoping to rub elbows with President and Mrs. Obama), so what?
Actually, it’s great that the White House has recognized that traditional federal acquisition processes aren’t suited to IT systems and if agencies take it to heart, it could mean that systems are delivered on time, fully functional, and at or under budget. The Digital Playbook itself is a collection of thirteen best practices (or “plays”) for federal IT program managers to implement during the acquisition process. An even more useful (and, admittedly, in the weeds) feature for PMs is the Tech FAR, which incorporates Agile software development into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
The Digital Services Playbook and Tech FAR represent a two-pronged community engagement approach. First, the White House recruited technical experts from private industry and the government IT and acquisitions communities to brainstorm specific strategies to improve federal IT program management. But what’s more exciting than experts from industry and government working together on policy (a fairly common practice) is that both the Digital Playbook and the Tech FAR are open to public comment. Citizens can provide feedback and suggestions via a digital platform, which are then considered for implementation into the next iteration of each document. This willingness to invite the public to contribute to both of these documents is a new frontier for the acquisition community. It will be exciting to watch this experiment unfold and see how it affects both government IT systems and federal procurement in the future.