GSA, the IG, and Third Time’s a Charm?

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So, you heard it here first–GSA does indeed have its underpants full of alligators. This week’s IG report on GSA’s 18F $31 million flutter makes the $800,000 Las Vegas boondoggle look like a pocket-change indiscretion. And, we understand the IG’s not finished yet–not one, but two more IG reports on the way in November and December. After the election, good time to take out the trash–also provides time for any criminal action.

But the waves outside the building at 18th and F Streets pale beside the tempest inside the four walls.  The PR spin machine’s bailing hard–look at the posts back on the blog–but the boat’s taking on water fast. And, as folks duck for cover, there’s more dysfunction afloat. 18Fers trampling one another in a scramble to find billable work. At the same time, 18F, FedRAMP, and the OCIO all feuding over long overdue ATOs. Rob Cook will need all his experience working with Monsters, Inc.

MeriTalk got up close and personal with GSA’s dysfunction when working with 18F/TTS and FedRAMP on a Sept. 13 program. Denise Roth approached MeriTalk about using the platform as a jumping off point for broader collaboration to fix significant structural challenges with her two most troubled children. Despite Roth imploring her 18F and FedRAMP leadership to cooperate and answer simple questions, the event was an embarrassing disaster for all involved–here are GSA’s “responses” to the questions we posed on 18F/TTS and FedRAMP.  100-plus attendees were treated to yours truly upbraiding GSA’s 18F/TTS and FedRAMP leadership–here’s that speech. Congressman Gerry Connolly took the lectern next–and told GSA to get its act together or face new legislative action.

Will GSA’s keel-less course capsize the $3.1 billion IT modernization fund?  How can the Hill trust GSA to manage the money? What new revelations will come in the next two IG reports?

Vegas or no Vegas, I’d wager there’s change ahead for GSA. Congratulations to those stalwarts in the agency that had the sense to engage the IG–pity leadership didn’t heed your counsel.

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
Steve O'Keeffe is the founder of MeriTalk, the government IT network. MeriTalk is an online community that hosts professional networking, thought leadership, and focused events to drive the government IT dialogue. A 20-year veteran of the government IT community, O'Keeffe has worked in government and industry. In addition to MeriTalk, he founded Mobile Work Exchange, GovMark Council, and O’Keeffe & Company.
18 Comments
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    It looks like 18F has turned into a major issue for GSA and a real distraction to the enterprise in moving forward. All the talking heads in town refer to sing an agile approach and the concept of failing fast, learning from the failure and moving on. Maybe the time is now to end the 18F experiment, learn from it, let the chips fall where they fall, and move on.
  2. Anonymous | - Reply
    GSA's FedRAMP responses are thorough and make sense.
  3. Anonymous | - Reply
    What about the poor contractors probably caught in the middle of this mess!
    1. Anonymous | - Reply
      I agree, what an embarrassment! I feel bad for the new people coming into 18f who probably left great jobs thinking they were joining a great mission and were sold a bill of goods. They will watch their organization crumble in the next few months as more of the truth comes out. Idea was great, execution poor and illegal. Time to move on. Government needs change but not these jokers.
  4. Anonymous | - Reply
    I think it's a nice PR win they were able to recruit someone from Silicon Valley (again) but is that really what that organization needs right now? Hasn't this experiment proven to be unsuccessful? Hasn't enough money been wasted - even though GSA Administrator Roth and her gang of misfits Andrew and Adam don't care. Many are shocked they haven't been asked to leave GSA yet. Sure maybe in the short term this deflection from what's happening right now with the IG reports may help sightly but this new hire will soon lose his luster and they'll be back to solving the same problems -only we'll be looking at a $60M, $80M or more loss. When will people realize they are actually killing fledgling innovative efforts in many agencies. Because as others have pointed out: 1) they didn't care to understand the core business of the agency, and 2) they aren't out to solve the critical problems that are actually at issue. From a technical perspective, "startup architecture"/a website is novelty architecture. We haven't seen real "how do we architect a sustainable, resilient solution" yet from these folks. It's not their background. It's clear they are focused more on branding themselves during the short time they are there than any real impactful change in govt.
  5. Anonymous | - Reply
    where are their success stories from other customers? It seems all their "amazing" successes are internal 18F projects to make sure folks have friends to get coffee with.....
    1. Anonymous | - Reply
      Unfortunately there are few agency success stories and many in 18f admit that. They have hardly any work now and no real pipeline and haven't reduced staff. Agency customers are not returning and it's not because their problems were solved the first time by 18f. It's because they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and got nothing more than a few research pages for it and if they were lucky, a half baked prototype which can't be built because 18f didn't hire enough developers. (Novel concept: needs based hiring = business 101). One engagement that just ended cost the customer agency $250k and the last minute deliverable of some ppt slides is laughable. Stuff they could have easily googled, copied and pasted on their own. That team wants to make sure other agencies don't get fooled so they are sharing broadly. 18f has measured success by the number of people they have hired. What? "We are successful because we were able to convince cool techy people to join gov, talk about what they know without really working. (Dump several more million there). that's productive, let's call that personal success and a great gig if you can get it.
  6. Anonymous | - Reply
    8:20 a.m. has to be Matt Goodrich or somebody at the FedRAMP PMO. Nobody else would bother to read beyond the first page of the PMO response and if they did nobody could find it thorough and logical. It is disappointing that the PMO missed another opportunity to address real questions from the community and now we will see what happens to the program. Its time for sweeping change because from where I sit 18F and FedRAMP are all the same people and problems.
    1. Anonymous | - Reply
      I disagree with the statement that Matt Goodrich had to be the person who provided the original comment. I read all of the statements and responses and feel that the responses are sound. I also believe that some of the statements are naïve, reflect a lack of understanding re the differences between ISO 27001 and NIST 800-53 and the minimal inheritance (i.e., MA, MP, and PE control families) a SaaS receives by hosting on a FedRAMP ATO'ed IaaS.
  7. Anonymous | - Reply
    Administrator Martha Johnson was ousted for waste, fraud and abuse for less than $1M on a conference in Vegas. How is this any different? This is actually far worse in many ways and destructive to the entire agency. Why don't the 18F and GSA Administrator's team have to play by the rules, how can they stay in their positions after losing that much money with blatant arrogant disregard for warnings from seasoned career executives along the way. How can they continue to break laws and not be held accountable? This just sets a precedence for more corruption. Roth and her team knew about all of this and as we saw from the IG report's direct quotes from them, they DID NOT CARE! Zero integrity, everyone is in CYA and PYA mode (cover your a$$ and promote your a$$)
  8. Anonymous | - Reply
    The other side of “Fail Fast, Fail Often” is to take responsibility and to learn from your mistakes; that’s the culture the VC’s look for, and it may not even be possible in government. 18F is an experiment, and should be viewed that way. If they got caught up in their own hype, that’s their problem, but the concept’s viable on a smaller scale.
  9. Anonymous | - Reply
    President Obama said this last week and it's on point!! Government isn't a business. They don't get to write off losses, they don't get to ignore problems, they don't get to choose who they work for and don't... the arrogance of the entrepreneur community is just mind blowing. “Government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy,” Obama said. “This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with. “Sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences … then I think those suggestions are terrific. “Sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked.”
  10. Anonymous | - Reply
    Wow, this is excellent! Where did he say this? Maybe this is finally them admitting the SV - 18F experiment didn't work. The pride and arrogance of the GSA leadership is keeing them from recognizing the disaster they have created and let stand by adding yet another SV type to continue the same. Much respect for Cook and his accomplishments but honestly it doesn't translate to government. Makes no sense.
    1. Anonymous | - Reply
      http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-obama-silicon-valley-20161017-snap-story.html
    2. Anonymous | - Reply
      LA Times covered it. As someone who recently left 18f, I actually agree with all of this. They have a great story built by a talented PR team, essentially untouchable and celebrated for very minor wins amplified by the thousands they've fooled. Once I got in it was nothing like what they promised. No real transformational work unfortunately and limited engineers which made for an unproductive mix. The pressure to sell more services when completely unnecessary was frustrating. The constant friction and unsatisfactory delivery for clients due to arrogance and cutting corners was it for me.
  11. Anonymous | - Reply
    As A GS 15 in GSA that actually works to save taxpayer money, this comes as no surprise. Take a look at the millions spent on failing category management and the Acqusition Gateway. Oh my, the answer is to restrict travel to those of us touching customers. Take Commsioner Sharpe too while you are cleaning house
  12. Anonymous | - Reply
    Last time GSA got a public spanking a new directorate was formed, 27 people in all, to prevent things like a $100K branding meeting for 18F. They produce things like a 27 page document for filling out a request to, wait for it, have a meeting like the branding one. There is another story on epic government waste AND THE ANSWER IS TO CREATE MORE LONG TERM DEBT IN THE WAY OF SALARIES AND PENSIONS. The inmates seem to run the asylum. Phadre C claim was a newsletter in 12 languages. Yea that prepared her for government work and the results are wasted millions. I'd put her first on the list of congressional hearing witnesses to take the fifth. Leadership, no, the recycled SESs are still there and rewarded with more responsibility, e.g. the SES in Kansas City who lied to Senator McCaskill is now the government PM for an acqusition category. Like the ESPN segment, C'mon Man!!
  13. Anonymous | - Reply
    WOW. I really thought I was one of a handful of folks who wasn't thrilled with 18F. They came in and it was like all the amazing, innovative work we were doing as govies didn't exist from encouraging Open Source to teaching each other Git to pushing agencies to analyze users and provide best in class citizen services; all within the rules. We weren't always fast, the gov't is a big project to steer, but we made progress and then the PIFs and 18F came in and it was like we did none of it.

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