It’s undeniable that commercial companies drive innovation in technology. Through commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions, government agencies also have the opportunity to realize the enormous benefits of the new technologies that have long been available in the private sector, and thus be better stewards of the taxpayers’ money. These fresh approaches in IT can not only make government more agile and more efficient, they can result in better service to the American people.
But getting such innovative commercial technologies more rapidly into government requires new approaches to acquiring and deploying technology. We have to break the stranglehold of an outdated culture that for too long has resisted changes to the status quo. A modern, digital government must overcome this inertia and embrace innovative technologies, as well as a more rapid means of acquiring them.
ADI: A New Independent Voice
The Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI) is a new, independent voice calling for greater use of commercial innovation and emerging technologies throughout government. ADI was founded by like-minded technology companies and industry thought leaders wanting to promote positive change in how the public sector views, acquires, and utilizes innovative technology. The members of ADI asked me to serve as the organization’s chairman, and I am honored to fill this role.
Too often, private sector interests seek to promote the status quo because they have a vested interest in current business products and associated revenue streams. That’s how their government technology customers stay stuck in place and unable to meet evolving needs (and threats). In contrast, ADI member companies are urging the government to support a different culture, embracing innovative solutions developed by the private sector.
As an example, Telos, an ADI charter member, has already been talking about some of the reforms ADI supports that aim to help the government modernize and more swiftly obtain the technology it needs, including:
- Greater use of Other Transactional Authorities (OTAs) and other rapid acquisition contract methods.
- Replacing outdated and unsafe legacy IT systems.
- Greater use of cloud computing.
- Stricter adherence to laws and policies that give preference to Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) rather than Government Off-The-Shelf (GOTS) products and solutions.
Last fall, ADI members wrote to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on the COTS vs. GOTS issue, saying:
“Far too often, commercial innovators devote considerable time, effort, and research and development dollars to deliver the complex solutions the warfighter requires, and which DoD actively seeks, only to see those solutions duplicated by the government and subsequently produced in-house.” In the letter, ADI suggested that, “DoD should issue stronger policy guidance to its component services and agencies, and to contracting officers, directing that COTS cyber and other IT products be given clear priority in acquisition policies and decisions unless competing GOTS solutions have demonstrably superior capabilities.”
More recently, ADI released a report on the COTS issue: Lost Opportunities: The Cost of Ignoring Commercial Innovation, which looks at the lack of progress in meeting the goals of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994. That law was enacted by Congress 25 years ago to require federal agencies to purchase commercial IT products whenever practicable, and the ADI analysis highlights the potential savings to the American taxpayer that have been lost because agencies have too often failed to comply with FASA, relying instead on custom-built IT solutions and legacy systems.
That’s just one example of how ADI wants to make a difference. ADI has also been communicating with government officials and other thought leaders in Washington about the need for acquisition reform, including such topics as OTAs, OMB’s Cloud Smart proposal, and overuse of lowest-price/technically-acceptable (LPTA) rather than best value contracts.
As we move forward, the alliance will be focusing on a number of pro-innovation initiatives that fall within three broad categories:
- Acquisition at the Pace of Technology
- Emerging Technologies
- IT Workforce
These topics are very important to our government, to the American warfighter and the American public, and to Telos and the technology sector as a whole. We look forward to working with our allies in ADI to change the policies and the culture in Washington in order to achieve a real digital transformation in government.
Telos CEO John Wood blogs about business, education, and the values that guide us.