Wish they all could be...

The administration is right to be building bridges with the tech community. But there's talent to be found outside California.

Wikimedia image: Silicon Valley.

There's tech talent outside Silicon Valley.

With sincere apologies to the Beach Boys circa 1965, federal IT leaders continue to be enamored with the California girls and boys of Silicon Valley. In the past several months, smitten suitors have made the trip to California to press their thirsty lips to the fountains of agile and innovation knowledge.

Examples abound, including:

  • Last month, ACT-IAC held meetings in San Jose with a number of enterprise companies, venture capital firms and select startups.
  • The Professional Services Council will hold a similar session this month with the California Technology Council.
  • The departments of Defense and Homeland Security are both opening offices in Silicon Valley. Deputy CIO Margie Graves said DHS is looking into new ways to collaborate with tech start-ups, including inviting them to work on pilot projects and finding other approaches that don't require them to go through the official contracting process.
  • Programs like 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, the U.S. Digital Service and other initiatives have targeted Silicon Valley technologists for term appointments in government.

All those efforts are well-intentioned, but perhaps some perspective is in order.

We first met several years ago, when Mark Forman was named the first U.S. CIO, IT spending was growing at close to a double-digit rate and the White House's e-government initiatives were being launched. Alan Balutis had just left public service to lead the Industry Advisory Council, while Stuart Robbins, who founded the CIO Collective, was working with a number of Silicon Valley firms that wanted to get into the federal market. We both agreed to work with Forman and his staff to build better bridges between the tech community and the public sector.

Although much has changed since then, especially with the actual technology, some fundamental issues remain. We offer the following thoughts and suggestions because of our long history as advocates for public/private collaboration:

  • The new generation of General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget employees are bright, energetic and committed to building bridges between D.C. and the tech community, especially in Silicon Valley.
  • The young leaders from the venture capital community are equally bright and energetic, but they are somewhat naïve about business complexity inside the Beltway. They are similarly uninformed about legacy systems, legislative complications and the Washington bureaucracy (of which at least some knowledge is necessary).
  • Relatively few companies or people outside the Beltway know about initiatives like 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows. A broader marketing and outreach campaign could be more useful than creating additional pathways for business.
  • Getting rid of regulatory complexity is a nice idea, but there is a reason for and value in programs like FedRAMP, which vets candidates and eliminates those that do not have the discipline or rigor to provide business at scale. If a company can't meet those requirements, maybe it should recognize that it won't be able to "hit big league pitching" when it comes to federal IT.
  • There seems to be little or no appreciation for state and local governments as proving grounds for new technologies. And we see scant interest at the federal level in intergovernmental partnerships as an expanded marketplace for pilot projects that could solve citizen problems while simultaneously serving as a test bed for solutions that later might scale to the federal level.

If we aren't pilloried for these initial observations, we might have more to offer on this subject in the future. In the interim, we welcome your feedback.

The views expressed here by the authors are their own, and do not represent the position of Cisco Systems Inc.

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