Why Congress Needs to Take a Long, Hard Look at 18F

18F logos

How many Presidential Innovation Fellows does it take to type 18F?

That may not sound like a serious question, but I can guarantee the anger of taxpayers and lawmakers will be real when they learn that it took a small team of designers from the General Services Administration’s 18F an entire weekend to come up with the following change to the digital service team’s logo.

18F logosIt gets worse. This so-called weekend “brandathon,” as it came to be known, began with an organization-wide workshop on 18F’s core values. “After this workshop, several design studios, and hours of work, the branding team had an initial set of deliverables to share with the rest of 18F,” wrote 18F designers Kate Garklavs and Jennifer Thibault in a mind-numbing 826-word blog posted Thursday to the 18F website.

This is what 18F calls “agile branding.” The weekend design “brandathon” took place last August—nine months ago.

Eric Ronne, one of 18F’s digital designers who participated in the summer work session, summed up the experience as follows: “At 18F we’re always changing and improving government interactions for our users. We iterate constantly here, and now we’ve iterated on our logo, too,” he said. “Our goal was to refresh the mark while nodding to the past, to create a straightforward update that’s accessible, bold, modern, and flexible.”

As if spending a weekend of design hours and nine months of internal back-and-forth discussions wasn’t enough to come up with this epic feat of Photoshop 101, the well-compensated digital branding innovators at 18F also spent time creating a collection of images featuring the new logo and inspirational messaging, “the optimism of which is central to our brand,” according to the blog post.

18F sky photo2“These images, which team members use as desktop art, weren’t exactly the highest priority ‘need’ item, but they were a fast way to show the team how the new system could begin to flex in more exciting ways than just templates,” wrote Garklavs and Thibault.

And this epic waste of tax dollars isn’t over. “We plan to create infographic templates for our social media accounts. And eventually, we’ll restructure and restyle our website, another outfit that we’ve outgrown since we started in March 2014,” they wrote.

I’m all for digital services in government, and for improving government services through technology and innovation. But the amount of time, effort, and money that GSA dedicated to changing a font in Photoshop is an obscene misappropriation of government resources. This type of maddening waste is exactly why so many observers in and out of government have come to question the purpose, mission, and value of 18F.

The innovators at 18F would be wise to “iterate” on something more difficult and of more importance to the American people. If they don’t start doing that soon, then the days of the 18F experiment in government are surely numbered.

Dan Verton
About Dan Verton
MeriTalk Executive Editor Dan Verton is a veteran journalist and winner of the First Place Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for Best News Reporting -- the highest award in the nation for business/trade journalism. Dan earned a Master's Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and has spent the last 20 years in the nation's capital reporting on government, enterprise technology, policy and national cybersecurity. He’s also a former intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, has authored three books on cybersecurity, and has testified on critical infrastructure protection before both House and Senate committees.
20 Comments
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    I can hear the Donald now when he takes office, "You're Fired!".
  2. Anonymous | - Reply
    I just felt the silent majority get angrier. Maybe the 18F team should have focused on developing a new sign for transgender bathrooms?
  3. Anonymous | - Reply
    The government’s 18F, with its manageable hours and public service mission, is attracting former journalists http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/05/the-governments-18f-with-its-manageable-hours-and-public-service-mission-is-attracting-former-journalists/
  4. Anonymous | - Reply
    real story is how many of 18F's hires are bloggers and journalists, should make the public worried they're more focused on branding and stories vs. actually doing IT?
  5. Anonymous | - Reply
    I'd have to agree with you...18F branding sounds a lot more like fluff than actual work
  6. Anonymous | - Reply
    So wait. Government employees are working on the weekend - when they aren't getting paid - and this is newsworthy and something to complain to congress about? Please. Find something real to report on.
  7. Anonymous | - Reply
    Every Federal Department has an org chart chock full of IT, security, development, marketing, etc., professionals. So we need another layer to foster...what? From 18F's site: "[W]e’re an office of federal employees acting as a civic consultancy for the government." What does that mean? What the heck is civic consultancy? If you do a search, you'll find "Civic Consulting" fairly easily, and guess where the top links take you? That's right - Chicago! Why am I not surprised? This smells like another 'social responsibility' scheme cooked up by the left. How much is this costing us, for Federal employees to offer us 'civic' insights. Sounds to me like Big Government once again trying to manage everything centrally from DC.
  8. Anonymous | - Reply
    nice to see someone reporting on what has aggravated so many people in Washington for quite a while now. would be great if gsa focused on their actual mission - never mind that it's completely out of gsa's scope to even create a group like 18f. i too am all for government IT innovation - but take one look at the list of "innovations" 18f has tackled and you'll laugh...and then probably cry.
  9. Anonymous | - Reply
    https://18f.gsa.gov/2016/05/12/introducing-18fs-new-visual-identity/
  10. Anonymous | - Reply
    This article is nothing more than uninformed whining. You judge a federal program based on its logo? The design team's weekend work didn't cost the taxpayers a dime --- they're salaried. Whether they stop on Friday at 5pm or work through the weekend, the taxpayers pay the same. If you are going to talk about money wasted, show us how you come up with your facts.
    1. Anonymous | - Reply
      Your comment is exactly what I wanted to say. Why spend your time writing to complain about some logo you don't like? There are actual issues to blog about.
  11. Anonymous | - Reply
    To the poster at 4:44-It's not whining; its frustration with a pack of neophytes skirting the law, undermining the processes of government, and falsely proclaiming their value. Congress needs to intervene here and put an end to this nonsense before these parasites do more damage than what the vulnerability reported today.
  12. Anonymous | - Reply
    Skirting the law...by creating a new logo...on their own time? Those monsters! Somebody's got to stop them.
  13. Anonymous | - Reply
    Wow, you're *terrified* of 18F. Your fear is palpable. Why is that?
  14. Anonymous | - Reply
    Excellent title on this article - If only Congress could figure out what attracts and motivates government workers to work over the weekend, on their own time, to produce higher quality outputs... imagine that.
  15. Anonymous | - Reply
    Perhaps the OPs feel like I do. As we're seeing other news reports, we're at two incidents in about a week associated directly or indirectly with what increasingly appears to be an operation going rogue: the one just identified by the IG, and the GitHub/Uber breach. With regard to the latter, that third-party platform, because it's use requires consent to its terms, appears to be a barrier between citizens and their government. While we're on the subject of third parties, it's not clear how that platform was selected for use. Nor is it clear how the product identified by the IG was selected, nor the drives identified in the IG report, nor the IaaS provider 18F uses. Maybe it's all good; maybe not, but there's no real transparency to understand what's going on there, and, rather than providing it, the organization resorts to self-congratulatory statements of success. Look, there are some of us who are willing to be convinced otherwise, but, over time, there really hasn't been a lot of detail around this group, and yet, its scope of responsibilities seems to change, to grow, and to duplicate other activities. It may be the culture of postings to respond with hyperbole ("*terrified*") and snark, but the organization would do well to start getting serious about what it does and explain itself, in concrete terms. Otherwise, as the increased interest of the oversight community demonstrates, it's days may be numbered. Just some friendly advice.
  16. Anonymous | - Reply
    Gotta say, I liked the old logo better than the new one.
  17. Anonymous | - Reply
    Can't wait for the GAO/OIG report on this fully reimbursable "business line." Next year, 18f will be less relevant and forgotten than the Bush years quicksilver projects, except they accomplished something.
  18. Anonymous | - Reply
    My problem is that they're trying to turn coders and developers into managers and communicators. That talent already exists in the organization. If we hired them to program because we have trouble getting that skill set in the gov, then great, stick to that. Some of the 18F folks come from start ups. Communicating across a start up is a lot different than communicating across large orgs and gov wide audiences. 18F's web "standards" announcement is a perfect example. A rookie comms mistake that could have been prevented, had they talked to experienced people.
  19. Anonymous | - Reply
    Did you also see how they bought a whole project for a dollar? https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20151107/00051032739/us-government-successfully-issues-contract-open-source-code-1.shtml Yeah these guys are horrible (note sarcasm)... *eye roll*. 18F is exactly what the government needs...

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