GSA’s 18F applies private-sector innovation to government

By Jason Fornicola Federal News Radio

As part of its effort to create a 21st century government, the General Services Administration’s 18F program serves as a way for proven practices within the private sector to be applied to agencies. “18F, at its core, is a way to build and deliver technology within the federal government,” Andrew McMahon, senior adviser to the administrator at GSA, told Federal News Radio’s Agency of the Month radio show. radio show. “The focus is on user-centric technology and also is trying to apply agile methodologies and the lean startup methodology into government.”

Courtesy of GSA

McMahon says the office has two goals. “The first of which is to build successful user-centered technology and the second of which is to do just that, prove agile and lean can work in the federal government,” McMahon continued. While new to the public, the program has been in development for about 18 months with a name that references GSA’s headquarters located at 1800 F Street in Washington.

“We’ve been working on this idea of bringing in a talented group of both technologists, product folks, design, user experience – people who really understand how to solve problems on the technology end and really have applied them to the private sector – bring them into government and see if the can tackle kind of three big problems in government,” McMahon said. “The first of which was paperless and working on digital forms in government, the second was single sign- on and the third of which was trying to lower the overhead of the federal government.”

According to 18F Co-founder and Senior Team Lead Greg Godbout, several agencies including the Small Business Administration and the departments of Commerce and State, have utilized the program’s services. He expects that number to increase as new products are developed. “As we grow into the new products that we’re going to work in – there’s roughly four products that I can’t talk about yet because the ink’s not dry – but they would bring us into about 10 different agencies across the four that we would regularly work with.” So far, 18F has been well-received by agency customers. “To date it’s been really positive, especially for the agencies that really understand what we’re trying to do from an agile and lean perspective,” McMahon said.

“Agencies really want to find a way in which they can build quickly, learn from what they’ve built by going out to the user and testing it with the user and iterating that on a consistent basis.” Depending on agency need, 18F can provide basic support or do the bulk of the work. “What we are essentially providing is some support and, in some senses, we’re coming in and actually building for them, obviously, with them leading the project and being the funders of the project, we’ve gone in and helped them do that,” according to McMahon. “But really what we’re doing is essentially providing a core capacity from a human capital perspective.”

McMahon’s main message to other agencies is that 18F is “open for business” and ready to help solve problems. “If an agency has a project that they’d like to build a technology solution to meet citizen or public needs, 18F can go and help,” McMahon said. “And so it’s grown out of, essentially, both a desire for GSA to grow its technology business, but also a need on the agency side to have strong human capital within the government that can partner with other agencies to do this work.”