Overcoming obstacles to innovation at the federal level

However, government modernization efforts will prove futile if the infrastructure and engrained systems that act as key vehicles and enablers remain stagnant.

Doing more with less may be the mantra of 2024 for our federal government, given the widescale, global commitments and engagements the administration and our agency partners are supporting. But how do we continue to innovate at the speed of need and foster modernization despite limitations — whether budgetary, bandwidth-related or bureaucratic — to safeguard the country, reduce costs, maintain a competitive advantage and improve the citizen experience?

To fast-track modernization, government leaders should embrace three key principles for overcoming federal-level obstacles to innovation: streamlining government contracts, leveraging dual-use commercial technologies, and committing to reusable solutions.

  1. Rethink contract structures

The pace of change requires flexible and responsive approaches that cannot be achieved with traditional government contracting models. Embracing outcomes-based contracting across federal agencies can incentivize forward-leaning, technology-first industry solutioning. The shared risk/reward nature of this public-private model offers a unique way to modernize and improve public services without pushing costs onto government agencies — and ultimately taxpayers — while maintaining ownership of decisions to drive business and mission outcomes.

Recreation.gov is a pertinent example of this model. The outcomes-based contract model allowed Recreation.gov to work with a contractor to invest in the ongoing maintenance, evolution and expansion of the technical services of the platform and mobile app to address and anticipate the needs of agencies, facilities and citizens with the ability to rapidly deploy digital visitation management solutions.

By partnering with industry and creatively redefining contracts, agencies can develop a modern and modular technology blueprint that is purpose-built to deliver more value to the customer and user — with benefit to the end user, agencies and industry.

  1. Refocus on commercial dual-use technology solutions

Increasing technology makers’ federal fluency jumpstarts the development and deployment of new solutions for mission-critical federal applications. It strengthens America’s national security, economic vitality and access to a supply chain of emerging technologies that can help increase the reach, accessibility and impact of federal programs.

Commercial dual-use solutioning creates mutually beneficial relationships for the government and emerging technology companies. The government gains access to new technologies, while startups receive funding and guidance in navigating the federal market.

As national security threats become increasingly advanced, technological advancement is needed. Commercial dual-use solutioning decreases the time to adoption for technologies that create this competitive edge — expediting access to game-changing innovation.

The benefits of dual-use technology expand beyond national security or defense missions. Fielding and deploying adaptable, proven tech can make or break the federal government’s ability to deliver vital services and benefits. For citizens, the value of service delivery can significantly impact a person’s life, whether seeking health benefits, finding shelter and food, or looking for employment.

  1. Recommit to reusable solutions

The U.S. government spends more than $100 billion annually on information technology modernization, with accreditation of new software applications taking two years and $1.5 to $2 million to obtain an authority to operate. Though vital to ensuring our government has the latest innovation, this model is not sustainable. Reusable software components streamline development and deployment, expediting federal access to modern technological solutions, and providing significant cost savings.

For instance, as competitor nations race to develop sophisticated space capabilities, the U.S. Space Force is leveraging industry partner support for rapid software development using open, resilient platforms that assist in integrating data across military and intelligence communities, while pledging to be creative about helping industry find new AI applications.

Modernizing space operations requires coordinated efforts; so does modernizing the federal government. Finding new AI applications can be accomplished faster with a reusable engineering approach born from, and proven by, industry — accelerating and standardizing how AI solutions are built to realize maximum mission impact and outcomes for the benefit of the U.S. government, military, allies and citizens.

However, government modernization efforts will prove futile if the infrastructure and engrained systems that act as key vehicles and enablers remain stagnant. In 2024, federal agencies must have access to the tools needed to achieve innovation at speed and scale to empower and enable the path ahead for mission success.

Julie McPherson leads Booz Allen’s Digital Solutions business, one of the firm’s fastest growing segments focused on transforming the nation’s top agencies with innovative digital applications and services. She has been an IT transformation leader for more than 25 years. 

Beau Oliver is a senior leader in Booz Allen’s chief technology office and helps drive innovation strategy for government and DoD clients. Beau leads the CTO’s tech exploration group, inclusive of partnerships, tech scouting, corporate venture capital and the firm’s innovation center ecosystem. Prior to joining Booz Allen, Beau has held leadership roles across consulting, software and technology companies and was an instructor pilot and mission commander in the U.S. Navy with over 500 combat hours.

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