We are about a week away from President Obama sending his FY ’13 budget request (PBR) to Capitol Hill where it will begin crawling its way through the byzantine congressional amendment process and ultimate adoption. Smack in the middle of a Presidential election year the process will be more bizarre than ever. Coming off of our fourth consecutive budget year in which we ran a $1 trillion deficit (yes, trillion) I have been wondering if Congress and the Administration will finally begin to embrace technological innovation as a means to drive efficiency, effectiveness and performance up, and cost and waste down. And I have begun to ask people in government and industry who I trust and respect whether they think the daunting budget crisis we find ourselves in the midst of will force us towards available technology solutions that will shift the paradigm of performance in government while saving extraordinary amounts of money. The general consensus is mixed.
A senior executive at one of the world’s most impactful IT companies, a firm that invests billions each year in R&D, told me this week that he thinks the tough budget times will make many government stakeholders less likely to embrace innovation. His calculus is that with less money to go around that today innovation feels riskier than it did before in more robust budget times, that risk is punished not rewarded and that, therefore, innovation is to be avoided. I hope he’s wrong.
Others point to agencies and programs that are shedding the cumbersome “butts in seats” approach to network and data operations, security and application development requirements and instead are leveraging COTS and Open Source technologies and nimble, agile developers to optimize deployment to achieve extraordinary advances in mission outcomes for significantly less than would be spent on labor intensive, traditional enterprise programs. But the inertia to maintain the status quo remains.
Agencies can demonstrate a commitment to innovation by allowing companies to offer alternative solutions other than the labor-focused, “head-count” approach when they bid on enterprise network operations, help desk, data center and other types personal services contracts. All it takes is the willingness of government stakeholders to agree to adopt reliable technology and alternative methodologies in lieu of head count. Cloud and mobility and many other more complex offerings are truly game changing. But we can start with something very, very simple. Swap out technology for people on managed services contracts. Seems to be a pretty basic way to start moving government further along the innovation spectrum.