Federal agencies learning to hurry, hurry, hurry

Whether your game is football, cybersecurity or acquisition, speed matters.  You see this all over the government.

Agencies all over are learning to adopt so-called agile development in buying or writing software. Agile has become something of a religion, but its adherents can point to success. The General Services Administration’s fabled 18F group is helping spread the agile gospel. The basic idea is to develop software in regular, small pieces, each guided by feedback from...

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Whether your game is football, cybersecurity or acquisition, speed matters.  You see this all over the government.

Agencies all over are learning to adopt so-called agile development in buying or writing software. Agile has become something of a religion, but its adherents can point to success. The General Services Administration’s fabled 18F group is helping spread the agile gospel. The basic idea is to develop software in regular, small pieces, each guided by feedback from the people who will have to live and work with it. So that when a project is finished, it’s not so much unveiled as completed with no surprises.  Each delivery cycle is called, not coincidentally, a sprint. If you’ve ever watched human sprinters, you’ve noticed they don’t take big long steps.

An aside: I’ll be moderating the panel discussion at this Tuesday’s monthly AFFIRM luncheon in D.C., where we’ll be talking about the realities of agile development from agency practitioners who have done it.

Speed is relative. If you can shave 0.1 seconds off your 100-meter sprint, it’s because you’ve trained like the devil. If the Navy can shave two years off how long it takes to buy something, that, too, is a victory from a lot of hard work.  Federal News Radio’ Jared Serbu reported how the Navy huffed and puffed, but made a “significant information technology acquisition” in less than one year. In Navy terms, that’s a blink.

DOD has moved fast when it’s had to before. Remember when the Army, mainly, needed more of those mine-resistant troop carriers during the height of the Iraq war? Earlier, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, questioned about a lack of vehicle armor generally, had said, you go with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had. His successor, Robert Gates, stomped and hollered when the MRAPs weren’t there, and by golly DOD set the requirements and found a contractor to build them in what for the Army was march time.

Speed counts when cybersecurity breaches occur. The government is usually slow out of the starting blocks. Only Tuesday did the Office of Personnel Management open it’s online and telephone verification center for people who might have had their IDs stolen. This for a scandal that broke open back in June, over a breach that actually took place a year and a half before that! Just imagine what the Federal Trade Commission would do if a store chain or bank operated at that pace.

But the White House is aware of this shortcoming. It’s directing the General Services Administration to come up with a rapid-acquisition plan for professional services in the event of a breach. That shouldn’t be a heavy lift, given the contingency acquisition allowances already in the regulations.