Dave Shive came over to the General Services Administration’s 18F organization four months ago in part to be a fixer.
GSA executives realized earlier this summer that the soon-to-be released inspector general report and an internal review found serious problems with how the digital services operation was running over the past two years.
Shive, who recently returned to his regular role as the GSA chief information officer after serving as acting commissioner of the Technology Transformation Service (TTS) since July, said he has guided several actions to mature the 18F organization and fix a host of management shortcomings.
“When people come into public service for the first time, they are met with a bunch of challenges. Anybody who has worked in the federal government knows that. One of the challenges of being in civil service is what is the policy that we are operating against, what’s the interpretation of that policy, have you complied with that regulatory and procedural environment, which is new for a lot of people coming into government?” said Shive, during an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “The good news is that we discovered that there were some problems there and the IG was right to call that out because they discovered it as well. The even better news is that controls were put in place to make sure it never happens again.”
Shive said he also started to change the culture within 18F that ensures the mistakes detailed in the IG report don’t happen again.
“One of the things we did almost immediately, and we actually started this work before the IG report came out, is we completed reconciliation of all existing agreements and addressed any problems with any agreements we had with other agencies, and fixed them to make sure there were no errors,” he said. “We did what most start-ups have done that come from Silicon Valley or New York or places like that, we brought in an independent third party to review our financial processes and controls.”
Additionally, Shive said he made sure the general counsel and CFO are approving all interagency agreements, and improved its time-keeping system to better track how employees use their time on projects and on work that isn’t billable.
Harsh IG report forces change
The GSA IG found in October that 18F disregarded policies, procedures and advice, and went about its work with little respect for federal rules and regulations.
GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth brought Shive in to right the ship in July as the IG report’s initial findings and TTS’s own internal review showed these huge problems.
“The administrator was very intentional in making me the acting commissioner of TTS while we did our nationwide search,” Shive said. “I think that it made sense to have some people who have worked in government successfully for a little while to sit over top of the organization and guide some of these changes. I think we are seeing some very good and positive results.”
Shive said he wasn’t surprised by the findings of the IG or the internal review by TTS. He said many startups have similar challenges of spending more money than they take in or not understanding how best to allocate their time with customers versus general and administrative needs.
“I saw some immaturity in there. It was an immature organization largely built with people that it was their first time in government,” he said. “But anybody who’s been in government for a while has had people who have stepped into government for the first time and they recognize you have to build an ecosystem around them to guide them to make sure they don’t get crosswise of the law, of regulation and of policy. This was just a whole organization that we had to do that with because for many people this was their first time in government.”
GSA is keeping that ecosystem in places especially for Rob Cook, who Roth named as the new TTS commissioner on Oct. 27. Cook brings no federal experience to the table, but he has successfully run technology organizations in Los Angeles for Disney Pixar.
Cook said in a blog post on Oct. 31 that he is joining TTS to make a “profound difference in people’s lives”
“TTS is built on the principles cutting-edge companies across the world thrive on, principles like agile development and user-centric design. But creating an outstanding digital-age government will take more than those principles; it will take partnerships with people who know government as well as we know technology,” Cook wrote. “That’s why at first I’m mostly going to be doing a lot of listening and learning.”
Cook needs to find right balance
Shive said he will slowly migrate back to his full-time job as CIO and help Cook adjust to TTS and the government.
“Rob is really smart. He has a great business head on his shoulders and an even better technical head on his shoulders,” he said. “I suggested to him to be himself. He’s smart, he’s thoughtful and deliberate about how he analyzes information and I said take all of that apply it to TTS. It’s a group of really smart people and they will appreciate that there’s a fellow smarty in the room to help them do some of the stuff they need to do. The second thing is I said to try to find a happy medium between creating time and space for the smart people in TTS to be creative and to develop great solutions for the tough problems of government IT, while also being cognizant of the regulatory and compliance environment that exists in the federal government.”
Shive said GSA also is ensuring Cook has the support he needs from legal, IT, cybersecurity, finance and acquisition to find that right balance.
“I’m so pleased to report that he not only said, ‘Yes, I will do that, but I absolutely need that to happen,’ and he’s invited us again and again and again as he gets up to speed to give context on that kind of stuff,” he said.
Additionally, Shive said 18F is bringing on a new chief operating officer to help run the day-to-day operations and making sure the organization is focused on its mission. He didn’t say who that person would be or when they may start, but it would seem logical to assume this person would have government experience.
Another major change across TTS is a new name and mission for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OSCIT).
A GSA spokeswoman confirmed OSCIT is now called the Office of Programs and Platforms (OPP).
OPP is responsible for the operation, evolution and scaling products and services under five mission areas:
Innovation (Challenge.gov, and some lower cost tools such as Open Opportunities)
Smarter IT: Identify and authentication, Sites.USA.gov and Federalist
“18F is incubating products and platforms both for our partners, and for governmentwide use — once mature, they’ll move to OPP for operations and maintenance type work,” the spokeswoman said.
Shive said these changes, in the end, will strengthen 18F and digital services across the government. He said he is concerned that 18F’s problems could hurt digital services efforts across the government.
“Ultimately, though, in TTS, the U.S. Digital Services and other digital services teams, I think enough good has been shown that this thing will maintain itself for the foreseeable future and I’m super excited about that,” he said. “That said, the IG recommendations allow 18F, TTS and GSA as a whole to be a stronger organization. Putting some gas in the engine that allows us to make sure there is more robust processes in place, that we are right-sizing 18F and that’s the exact right thing to do, and we are memorializing it and making it stronger for long-term success.”