VanRoekel: Don't Let Sunk Costs Sink Innovation

Caitlin Fairchild/Nextgov file photo

Big spending doesn't always mean big improvement -- sometimes it just means waste.

Too many federal officials believe that to do more you have to spend more, but in fact that opposite can be true, acccording to the Obama administration's top technology official.  

"There's a general culture of big failure," said Steven VanRoekel, federal chief information officer. Big ideas too often lead to big vendors and big contracts -- generallly an unsustainable approach to implementing major changes, he said. 

VanRoekel spoke at an innovations awards program sponsored by ACT-IAC, a government-industry partnership organization.  

He challenged the audience to think about what they could do for $10,000 or $50,000 to demonstrate new ideas before jumping into full-blown technology investments.

Agencies need to figure out how to test new ideas quickly and move on if they prove untenable, he said. His advice to feds: 

  • Think about the outcome you want to achieve and strive for continuous achievement.
  • Take a customer-centeric approach.  
  • Don't let sunk costs or sunk culture define the way forward. 

"This is an all hands on deck effort," VanRoekel said, noting that it's critical for agencies to break down the stovepipes between acquisition, human resources, finance and technology staffs.