What's Next for 18F?

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The General Services Administration’s tech hub celebrated its second birthday last week.

Two years after its founding, the federal government’s much-hyped tech consulting team 18F will expand its work for state and local governments, grow its federal business and hire more techies, according to one of its leaders.

The 169-member group, sustained by the revenue it collects from customer agencies, also plans to focus on its existing portfolio of projects including: the agile Blanket Purchase Agreement, which pre-vets tech companies to sell incremental software development services to the government; a new online "micropurchasing" marketplace for bits of code; and Cloud.gov, an app platform. Another 18F team is working on a governmentwide “identity management problem."

18F Executive Director Aaron Snow discussed the group's priorities in an interview with Nextgov.

In the past 12 months, 18F has signed 116 project agreements with other government agencies, and is hiring about 25 employees each quarter, according to a new blog post. The group plans to at least sustain, if not exceed, its current hiring rate without causing "organizational pain." Because the group is fueled by its own revolving fund, budget isn't a limiting factor, Snow said.

"There’s a lot more demand for our services than we can fulfill," he said. 

In its short lifetime, the group, which began as a much smaller team focused on Web development, has experimented with offering various services to federal customers. In one case, 18F members had talked about standing up a “firefighting team” to fix technology emergencies, but the U.S. Digital Service was already doing that, Snow said. 

Eventually, Snow said he hopes federal agencies will create their own internal versions of 18F's digital consulting team so the flagship group can focus on acquisition-related services, as well as building products and platforms. 

Snow is not concerned a new administration could change 18F’s ability to recruit tech talent from the private sector.

“We don’t choose projects based on political priorities,” he said. “I don’t think any president would disagree with [18F’s] fundamental value proposition.”

The team also plans to continue its campaign to change the federal government’s approach to technology, trumpeting new techniques and methods such as agile development, lean startup principles and open source coding, Snow said.

But Snow, whose members often spout mantras such as “fail fast” or “fail small,” couldn’t immediately point to any examples of 18F’s own failures. Though not all 18F projects have run smoothly -- for one, 18F's Agile BPA has been halted multiple times by protests from companies excluded from the system -- Snow said no agency has severed an agreement with 18F.

“We don’t go really far down paths without understanding each step as we’re going," he said.