18F gets into defense and intel

The innovation squad turns its talents to technology and acquisition challenges facing defense and intelligence agencies.

soldier and IoT sensor network

18F, the digital innovation squad based at the General Services Administration, is turning its talents to technology and acquisition challenges facing defense and intelligence agencies.

The launch of the 18F National Security and Intelligence Portfolio was announced in a Dec. 10 blog post by GSA Innovation Specialist Mark Headd.

The same kinds of challenges, inefficiencies and cultural roadblocks that 18F is famous for tackling exist in the national security and intelligence space, according to the blog post. The hope is that the same tools that 18F used to solve problems in the civilian sector -- user research, agile development, continuous delivery, open source -- can work in a defense and security environment.

"One of the most important outcomes of 18F’s work assisting agencies in efficiently adopting new technology and digital solutions is improving stewardship of public money," the post states. "No area of government has the potential to generate these benefits more than in the national security and intelligence area. Our work with defense and intelligence agencies has already generated hundreds of millions of dollars in savings."

This is not a wholly new idea. The model pioneered by 18F's sibling agency the United States Digital Service (USDS) has forged deep ties at the Defense Department. The Defense Digital Service was trusted to lead the design of the groundbreaking though controversial Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement -- a $10 billion cloud contract that went to Microsoft. That award is currently being challenged in a high-profile lawsuit from Amazon Web Services.

The question remains as to how 18F's geek culture will be affected by the launch of a new practice devoted to national security and intelligence. As is the case with the USDS, 18F employees are hired under special authority for two-year stints that can be extended into a four-year term. Launched in March 2014 with 14 staffers drawn from the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, 18F attracted techies who were eager to use their skills to bring human-centered design and agile acquisition to improve citizen-facing technology.

"No offense to my former colleagues, but one of the things I liked about 18F is that we were NOT working in the security and intelligence space of government, so I'm disappointed about this," former 18Fer Jacob Harris tweeted.

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