Tag Archives: Government Agile Technology

GSA Bumps STARS II Ceiling By $7 Billion

Image: “FCW


The General Services Administration raised the ceiling of its 8(a) Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services (STARS) II contract by $7 billion, to $22 billion.

STARS II is a small business set-aside for customized IT services and IT-services-based solutions from 787 small business contractors that qualify under Small Business Administration standards. GSA said the contract is used by 50 federal agencies to plan and supply long-term IT projects.


“In early April, the GSA’s 8(a) STARS II governmentwide contract hit its $15 billion ordering obligation limit.

“By raising the 8(a) STARS II ceiling, GSA continues to ensure that we meet the needs of our federal agency customers,” said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in a June 23 statement on the increase. “As agency demand for IT products and services has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, GSA is proud that STARS II will remain available to help agencies deliver world class IT services.”

GSA started limiting task orders on the GWAC to agencies whose contracting officers had obtained a “control number” to use the contract vehicle, but it stopped issuing new control numbers.

All 787 contractors remain on the vehicle, GSA said in its announcement. Agencies can place new task orders through Aug. 30, 2021, and work can continue on those new orders through June 30, 2022.

GSA is working on a new iteration of the contract, 8(a)STARS III.

In a June 10 blog post, Laura Stanton, acting assistant commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Services’ Office of Information Technology Category, said the agency plans to issue the final solicitation for the STARS III contract by end of the federal government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The initial STARS III request for information went out last August.

Stanton said the increase to STARS II wasn’t the first for the popular contract to accommodate agency demand.

“As we move into this contract’s fourth generation we can say for certain that this program is a huge success. A significant number of prior 8(a) STARS program participants have grown their businesses so much that we now see them thriving with the big companies on GSA’s Alliant 2 GWAC,” she said.”


Future-Proofing Government By Fostering Connections



More interagency collaboration, greater engagement with stakeholders and seamless interactions between agencies and the public are some of what’s needed for the federal government to excel in the years ahead.


“That’s according to the Partnership for Public Service, which published a report on the future of IT, the federal workforce and data modernization efforts.

The report, written in collaboration with EY and published Feb. 5, is the product of months of interviews and workshopping with policy makers, industry experts and agency leaders. Some of the solutions addressed common complaints like siloed IT systems, inefficient competition between agencies and unsatisfactory customer experiences. It encouraged agencies to collaborate internally and with other agencies and to increase engagement with private-sector partners and the general public.

“When IT modernization first took place and we started with the Centers of Excellence, it was really about one agency taking a particular problem, solving that problem, and then sharing it,” Department of Agriculture Chief Information Security Officer Venice Goodwine said in a panel discussion on the report. “There’s no need to spend the money building something that’s already been built. To [build an interconnected government], we need to leverage investments that other agencies have already made.”

Goodwine said the ideal model would be having one Center of Excellence for each shared service that could act as the point of contact across the federal government.

Department of Veterans Affairs’ Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton said that as customers have become accustomed to quick, frictionless service from private companies such as Amazon, federal agencies look slow and inefficient in comparison, leading to frustration. Reorienting services to address customers’ needs would be a key first step to changing the government’s reputation as unreliable and inert.

“In the next five or 10 years, the way we meet demand will be by listening and orienting around customers’ needs, rather than putting the bureaucracy first,” Morton said at the panel. “The expectations for us are being set outside of government. … It is our obligation to be able to catch up and meet those new needs.”

Nancy Potok, the former chief statistician for the Office of Management and Budget, concurred, adding that increasing engagement with external organizations would be one solution.

“Agencies should be encouraged to partner with outside companies and entities that are really good at this,” she said. “It’s true that the public has been now very well trained to expect instant service.”

Focusing on customer experience skills during hiring and in employees’ daily work would also help foster accountability and a service-oriented culture so workers can better meet the new demands being made of their agencies. 

“When people get supervisor training, they learn the rules. They learn compliance and how to fill out a performance evaluation. That’s not the skill set we need in today’s world,” Potok said. “We shouldn’t let anyone into a supervisory position until we’re sure that they have collaboration skills, that we’ve worked on their emotional intelligence, that they’re problem solvers, that they’re willing to take some risks.”

Agencies like the VA have taken the extra step of not only encouraging those skills in their workers, but actually writing them into official policy.

“In the department, we have core values and characteristics codified into our regulations such as integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence,” Morton explained. “We amended the regulations to include customer service principles as part of our core values. We updated our [Senior Executive Service] performance metrics as well, to include customer experience. To drive this culture change, to reorient, we need to consider customer service to also be part of our regulations and our core values.”


A Call To Action: Developing The Next Generation Of Federal Leaders



Photo: “IBM Center for the Business of Government “

Unlike corporate America and the military, which systematically groom their leaders from Day One, the federal government’s approach is generally uncoordinated across agencies and not well-informed by research or best practices.

Ensuring that new generations of federal leaders are prepared for the challenges we all know are on the horizon is vital to our national interests and the functioning of government.


“Developing the next generation of leaders for the federal government should be one of the highest priorities that Congress and federal agencies have. A new report finds that federal government agencies must increase efforts to prepare those leaders for the realities of a 21st century, which include unexpected and disruptive changes brought about by new technologies, changes in climate and demographics, and an uprooting of alliances and previously agreed upon social norms and practices.

The report — “Preparing the Next Generation of Federal Leaders: Agency-Based Leadership Development Programs,” released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and co-authored by myself, James Perry from Indiana University, and Jenny Knowles Morrison and Gordon Abner of the University of Texas — found that there are some exemplar leadership development programs throughout government at agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Agriculture — but that such agency programs need to be expanded more widely.

Our report found that current programs “… are akin to having many different pilot programs convening simultaneously with neither a rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of those programs nor any coordinated effort to enhance next rounds of programming.”

This has consequences when public confidence in the federal government is at an all-time low.

“Just two-in-10 Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (4 percent) or ‘most of the time’ (16 percent). Nearly seven-in-ten (68 percent) say they trust the government to do what’s right only some of the time and 11 percent volunteer the response that they never trust the government,” a 2017 Pew Foundation study found. This compares to the 1960s when 85 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing.

Without career federal leaders in the executive branch being perceived as capable of navigating the complex and challenging environment the government operates within, the American taxpayer will continue to doubt whether government is delivering value to them. And for good reason — the U.S. government is the nation’s largest employer (2.6 million career civil servants) and those civil servants implement a $4.4 trillion annual budget that touches the lives of all Americans on a daily basis.

Effective leadership can help to increase public confidence that full value can be delivered to Americans for this enormous investment.

So we know the problem, but do we know the cure? The IBM Center report provides strong evidence that it is long past time to continue neglecting how we develop our leaders in the federal government and is a clarion call for action.

Like with the military and corporate America, the executive branch of the federal government needs a culture and practice of systematically developing leaders. Our study demonstrated that effective leadership development programs exist, and that if properly resourced and implemented will produce the talented career leaders our government requires.

The report contains many recommendations, including identifying the factors that enable successful leadership development programs to thrive in the federal government.

Our most important recommendation is to stop treating developing our next generation of leaders as an afterthought and accept that this is a national priority of the highest order.

Retirements among baby boomers are accelerating and government is having a tough time attracting new generations to government service (only 6 percent of the current workforce is under the age of 30).”



Bill Valdez is president of the Senior Executives Association, the professional association for career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and equivalent positions.

Army Seeking Cyber Industry Partners To Permit ‘Defend Forward’



The Army’s Cybersecurity Defense Operations and Research (CDOR) Branch wants to increase battlespace awareness, securing operating areas, command and control, and network defense with the general help of contractors, according to the sources sought document.


“The Army is seeking is to provide “friendly forces” more intelligence on threats from adversaries. The work includes differentiating adversaries and allies in order to understand the scope of a cyber battlefield and network needs.

“The Government’s efforts are focused on innovative support that enhances battlespace awareness to provide friendly forces the information required for decision-making that gains or maintains an advantage over an adversary,” the document states.

Securing cyber operating areas would include risk assessments and response to warning signs, part of which a contractor would contribute research to. The document also references a need to continually reinforce cybersecurity for commanders to “defend forward,” the military’s overarching theory on action in cyberspace.

The Army is seeking the ability to disrupt an adversary’s ability to disrupt its own network, a part of the defend forward theory. A part of commanders’ ability to defend forward is to delegate enterprise information technology to contractors, the document stated.

A potential contract would be awarded for a year with a four-month extension after that for full-time services.”

The Pentagon Is Flubbing Its Pitch to Silicon Valley



“Framing China as an enemy military will be less effective than a techno-moralist argument that the Chinese government will abuse these tools to surveil and oppress their people.

The last thing the leaders or creatives want is to become tools of “the Man,” whether he sits in Washington or Beijing.”


“This culture of techno-utopianism stands in stark contrast to the culture of American manufacturing industry. A recent episode of the New York Times podcast “The Daily” examined the way Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and various other U.S.-based tech companies are treating the current controversies, and contrasted it with Dow Chemical’s reaction to protests over their production of napalm for the American war effort in Vietnam. Despite waves of demonstrations organized by the Students for Democratic Society, the company continued to produce the controversial incendiary for years because it felt a patriotic duty. 

As reporter Kevin Rose documents, this was a financial disasterfor Dow. The firm’s “reputation plummeted,” its “recruiting ability suffered,” and “its marketing department was forced to embark on a long and expensive campaign to win back the public’s trust.” In the end, “the $5 million napalm contract most likely cost Dow Chemical billions of dollars. And it was the kind of unforced error that could have been avoided if company executives had listened to early signs of opposition, done some risk analysis and changed course.”

But the company had been caught in the crossfire of change. Dow’s executives almost certainly served in uniform during World War II or Korea. And it was unusual, indeed, to question the American government’s rightness in conducting a war. But by the time Dow ceased producing napalm in 1969, the country had turned against the war. And the combination of repeated lies from the political and military leadership about America’s progress in Vietnam and the overlapping Watergate scandal turned the country much more cynical, perhaps permanently.

That attitudinal change has not been evenly spread. In Gallup’s 18 years of polling on how proud Americans are to be American, only 47 percent were “extremely proud” in 2018 compared to a peak of 70 percent in 2003. Those feelings break down in ways one might expect by political party, race, sex, and political ideology. But most significant for our discussion here is that college graduates have consistently been less patriotic by this measure than non-graduates. In 2018, only 39 percent of those with a degree felt “extremely proud” compared to 52 percent of those withG

While there’s no direct polling on this matter for those in Silicon Valley, the trend is almost certainly starker there. Surveys have shown us for decades that tech executives are quite politically liberal, albeit rather libertarian on regulatory issues. But it’s becoming clearer how much more progressive their workers are than the bosses. In the Gallup poll cited previously, a mere 23 percent of liberals were “extremely proud” to be American—compared to 46 percent of moderates and 65 percent of conservatives. Extrapolating from ideology and education, then, we can reasonably conjecture that a minuscule percentage of high-tech workers feel a strong affinity for America. 

These surveys may well be masking deeper divides. As Nathaniel Rakich and Dhrumil Mehta argue at FiveThirtyEight,

It could just be that Republicans are more comfortable with the most obvious manifestations of patriotism these days. Public displays of patriotism often assume a pro-military dimension (sometimes purposefully and tactically so), which may be more likely to appeal to Republicans (other polls show they are generally more hawkish than Democrats). Singing “God Bless America” and military flyovers at sporting events also first came into fashion in the years immediately following 9/11, when rallying around the flag coincided with rallying around a Republican president. By contrast, funding AmeriCorps or paying taxes probably aren’t the first things many people think of when they think of patriotism, but lots of Democrats would arguethey should be.

Rakich and Mehta cite as evidence a July 2018 YouGov pollshowing stark partisan differences of what counts as “patriotic.” Not surprisingly, Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to view as patriotic such actions as refusing to serve in a war they oppose or burning the American flag in protest.

There’s another reason why the tech sector is less likely to be flag-waving: it’s based in America but quite global. According to one survey, “40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants” and the rate is even higher for technology companies. A recent study of 87 privately held American start-ups valued at $1 billion or more which discovered that “more than half of them were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. And 71 percent of them employed immigrants in crucial executive roles.” Anecdotally, “One of Google’s founders is an immigrant from Russia, and its current chief executive is an immigrant from India. Microsoft’s chief executive is also from India. eBay and Yahoo were started by immigrants. Facebook’s largest subsidiaries, Instagram and WhatsApp, were both co-founded by immigrants. Apple was started by a child of immigrants.” Further, “at least 57 percent of workers in STEM jobs with a bachelor’s degree or higher were born outside the US.”

While Silicon Valley is an outlier in many regards, elites who don’t work in the national security ecosystem are increasingly divorced from it. One has to be over 50 to remember the days of military conscription, which ended in 1973, and of Social Security age to have been subject to it. For all but a handful of younger Americans, fighting wars is something other people do. They may well honor that service in the breach; but it’s hardly surprising that they want no part in the violence inherent in the enterprise.

Ironically, the best approach for sparking action in Silicon Valley may be to take a page from its counterculture roots and appeal to the humanitarian rather than the jingoistic front. “

The OPEN Government Data Act Is On Its Way To Being Law



“It’s a popular bipartisan bill, with heavy support from the open data community.

[It] was incorporated as Title II of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. The FEBP Act passed the Senate and was reconciled with a House version Dec. 22. “


“The open data bill would require that all non-sensitive government data be made available in machine readable formats by default.

The OPEN Government Data Act was first introduced as a stand-alone measure in the House in April.

“The passage of the OPEN Government Data Act is a win for the open data community,” Sarah Joy Hays, the acting executive director of the Data Coalition, said in a statement. “Ultimately, it will improve the way our government runs and serves its citizens.” OPEN stands for Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary.

The legislation also codifies and elevates the role of the chief data officer at federal agencies by requiring that each agency assign a qualified nonpolitical appointee to the job.

It’s unclear how the current government shutdown will impact the timing of President Trump’s signature.”



image 18F GSA .Gov

Image: 18F GSA.Gov


“18F is a team of top-notch designers, developers, and product specialists inside the General Services Administration, headquartered at 18 and F streets in Washington, D.C. 18 F Newsletter.”


“They have approached the acquisition creatively, simplified the process for all and, perhaps most importantly, focused on outcomes rather than process.

When GSA’s “18F” team was stood up, many of us were concerned about their seeming indifference to the acquisition system. The ability to purvey their capabilities to agency components without having to go through the often tedious acquisition process was, in fact, one of their key selling points.

Like procurement challenges and contests, 18F was, in part, designed to skirt the vagaries of federal acquisition. Hence, they displayed no real interest in mapping their own experiences against the acquisition process so that we might use those lessons to improve the broader system.

For many of us, this insularity was a source of contention and the foundation of some of our early concerns and criticism.

But that was then. 18F is now in the acquisition business, as the core customer of GSA’s current “agile technology” BPA procurement.

In other words, they are one of the few organizations in government actually putting into action many of the recommendations that have formed the core of reform proposals from the Professional Services Council and others for a long time.

For one thing, the solicitation itself is only 15 pages. By any measure, that is remarkably concise. Compare it to the solicitation for support following the Office of Personnel Management data breach, which is 60 pages long, or many others, for even more basic needs, that can run 100 pages or more.

Their ability to be so concise was, in large part, driven by an extensive industry outreach effort, including rapid responses to most any questions that were raised. As a result, they could issue a solicitation that was focused and clear and for which the background had already been effectively laid.

Second, they took a “show me” rather than “tell me” approach, relying on the actual delivery of a working software prototype rather than a lengthy narrative. To enable this, they provided all offerors with extensive data guidelines and information and turned them loose. The narratives were limited to just 750 words. Here too, while not the first to do so, they are among the very few to take this approach.

Think about it.

A clearly defined and articulated requirement, open communications with industry, a working prototype, and a lot less prose to accomplish it all. What’s not to like?

Third, 18F enabled companies to take greater advantage of technology in proposal development than we generally see. Simple things like a compliance checklist on a Google form allows the vendors to electronically fill out all the relevant information rather than the two-step process of a paper submission. Or the electronic spreadsheet of evaluation factors the offerors fill out with the requisite evidence that they meet those factors, rather than requiring the government evaluator to go through the proposal looking for how and where it meets the criteria. This is a great idea that could be used widely in solicitations to speed up evaluations, and it aligns nicely with recommendations PSC made in 2014.

Admittedly, this particular procurement is not terribly complex and thus not all of its characteristics will be easily replicated in all cases.

In addition, offerors were required to use open source and post their solutions on a public version control website like Github. This raised some concerns even on this procurement and may be more controversial for those procurements involving more complex solutions in which the offerors are independently making significant advance investments.

Indeed, the protection of company intellectual property in federal procurement in this “new” and open tech era is an area ripe for far more extensive discussion. But that is beside the point for now.

I have been openly critical of 18F since its inception and still believe a lot must be done to rationalize its role and how it relates to other entities inside and outside of government. But in this acquisition foray, they have nonetheless demonstrated innovative and creative techniques well worth taking note of.

Their initial concept of operations may have created an overly insular environment with no intent to effect or improve the broad acquisition process. But to their credit, they are doing just that.”

18F steps up its acquisition game