GitChat is an open, informal chat with leading civic innovators using GitHub as a platform for engagement.
Chief information officer
General Services Administration
What questions do you have for Sonny?
What is GSA doing to make it less cumbersome and expensive for startups and small businesses to work with the federal government?
Posting on behalf of someone who prefers to remain anonymous:
(1) How does GSA poll its “customers” with the other mission-focused government agencies as to what’s the top priorities for them? How does it translate those pressing top priorities for mission agencies into what GSA does to support them?
(2) How does GSA listen and learn from the public sector – including the public, private sector, and government agencies – as to what items need fixing with procurement and the FAR?
What can be done, from an IT level, to get Sam.gov new entity registrations growing again?
In what areas of IT purchasing is the GSA seeing the largest increase?
What technologies is the GSA most investing in for the future?
Hi Sonny, great to see you also doing a @github chat. While I unfortunately will be tied-up w/ two meeting during your live event, the fun question I would like to ask is:
What brings you joy? What motivates you at work?
Best regards, -d.
@empower-your-coders I'll start with the fun question :)
I love being able to make a meaningful difference. That's what pulled me into Public Service many years ago, when I took a gigantic pay cut to leave a very successful P&L portfolio in a fortune 500 company to join city government. To me, its all about being empowered to work your hardest to make a positive change in someone's life. In the city, the cause-effect were direct and immediate. Improve a process, automate a form, see the number of people waiting to get help shrink. Release data, provide visualization, and see better deployment of law enforcement staff, road repair crews and snow plows.
The cause-effect relationship is less direct and immediate at the federal level, but the opportunity to make a difference is so much larger. The opportunity to serve the American people is a privilege, and allows me to influence or make decisions that save Millions of taxpayer dollars, increase opportunities for startups and small/disadvantaged businesses, and make the planet greener. What more can I ask for?
Hi, Sonny --
What's different about working at the federal level, versus your role in local government at DC?
How is the federal government's ability to use cloud computing -- from public to private clouds -- changed since 2009?
The launch of 18F has caused some negative commentary from other agency IT organizations. How much of the push back was expected on the launch of 18F and how will GSA be overcoming the objections? What will the focus be to make 18F a successful component to IT procurement?
Everybody is backing "agile hacking" as the way forward.
In the UK we have the Government Digital Service, in the EU we have the Future Internet programme and in the US you have CodeAmerica.
There is a different, better way for Governments to deliver services using IT. In summary all today's business application software was designed to support internal organisation processes running on a company computer.
With ubiquitous Web access we can now discard the myriad of organisation-centric applications and replace them with a few citizen-centric applications designed to operate over the Internet to support end-to-end processes for public service communities. See http://goo.gl/oS7Gck for a short video to show how this could reduce the UK deficit by over £10Biilion per annum.
I would like your thoughts on the need to back this horse as well given the importance of Digital Government.
Hi All, Thanks for the great questions. Lets get started! And first off, thanks to @govfresh for the idea and moderating the chat today
Lets start at the top!
Q1) @lukefretwell What is GSA doing to make it less cumbersome and expensive for startups and small businesses to work with the federal government?
Helping small and innovative businesses and startups find opportunities to work with government is a core mission focus for GSA. This is a complex, multi-faceted challenge, but we are doing several things to move the needle in this area:
1) We’ve been working hard to promote order-level set-asides for small businesses under multiple award schedules, as part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.
2) GSA provided training to nearly 10,000 contracting personnel across government, made changes to our own schedule contracts to allow for the set-asides, and led the necessary regulatory changes. As a result, 1 in 5 RFQ’s are being set aside for small businesses on schedule through e-buy.
3) We are deploying tools that make it easier for small businesses to find opportunities to work with government, including contracting opportunities and grants. We recently released #FBOpen, an innovative project led by Presidential Innovative Fellows within @18F to streamline and make available through natural search, federal opportunities for contracts and grants.
4) We are challenging ourselves to go bigger with our commitment to meeting small business awards. This year, GSA is shooting for 40% of our acquisitions to go to small businesses.
There is still a lot more to do to make it easier for innovative startups to bring their talents to government. One way we are disrupting the status quo is by providing a government wide platform for agencies to issue challenges (challenge.gov) and for any individual or startup to provide innovative solutions. Such interactions often lead to subsequent opportunities to collaborate. I encourage you guys to keep an eye out on challenge.gov. GSA is actually running a very cool challenge right now to address federal travel data. Check it out at http://gsatraveldata.challengepost.com/
For more on the FBOpen program, here's the announcement: http://18fblog.tumblr.com/post/81293178801/announcing-fbopen-government-opportunities-made-easier
@lukefretwell (annonymous): Q2
GSA does a lot to constantly communicate and work with out customers and the larger community to collect feedback and incorporate it into our mission. For example, both the Federal Acquisition Service and the Public Building Service conduct thorough yearly surveys for our customers, collect tons of data, that allows us to hone in on areas where we can improve the services we provide, and new market opportunities where we can help our customers better. PBS uses this data to identify buildings and facilities that need attention, new projects that need to be executed, and where customers could leverage innovation such as open workplace to improve tenant satisfactions.
We also collect metrics and analytics on all GSA public websites and use this information to enhance usability. We manage a program called the Digital Government program (@digitalGov on twitter) that works with agencies to improve their digital assets like websites through usability studies. We also
We recently announced a new partnership and platform with News Genius (http://gsablogs.gsa.gov/gsablog/2014/03/27/gsa-introduces-news-genius-to-decode-government-web/) that is available to all government agencies in collecting feedback from the citizens and improving our community interactions. We are using this platform within GSA to improve how we manage changes to the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation).
There are many additional ways and examples, for example, industry days to collect feedback on system architecture, hundreds of training session and webinars to help small businesses, training for contracting officer cohort via the Federal Acquisition Institute, that collectively allow us to be better partners with our agencies.
See comments above regarding new way to update the FAR. we are constantly connected via many social channels with the appropriate communities of interest on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We actively work with agencies within the FAR council, the ACE community and other government-wide bodies like the CAOC and CIOC. Just recently, we conducted two industry days that were very well attended (both in person and virtually) to discuss the future architecture and vision for the IAE/SAM program. (https://interact.gsa.gov/group/integrated-award-environment-iae-industry-community)
@cjoh Great question. The good news is that SAM is on a much better footing today than it was a year or so ago. Obviously, shortly after go-live, SAM.gov was doing all the wrong things. The average help desk call wait time was over an hour, the average time it took to process a registration was over 30 days. Through a lot of work, including completely redesigning the "back end" security architecture, BPM layer, and database schema, and through releasing lots of new data feeds, and channels, today, the average wait time on the FSD.gov service desk is less than a minute, the average registration process takes less than 2 days, including IRS and CAGE validations. SAM is operational.
However, this is just the start. While SAM may be operational, it is, in no way, what the future should look like. It is still inelegant and cumbersome. We have done just enough to make it operational. In parallel, we are developing a new vision for the overall IAE environment (over 9 other government systems including SAM, such as FPDS-NG, FedBizOps, etc.). The new environment is being designed with data and API first, open by default philosophy. We have conducted two industry days to solicit feedback and more will be forthcoming (https://interact.gsa.gov/group/integrated-award-environment-iae-industry-community) -
The future vision for SAM/IAE is one that is driven by APIs. External systems, 3rd party apps, and community driven value chains should interact with these valuable data sources online and in real time. Customer agencies, contracting officers, and vendors should be able to pull just the right data, processes, documents to get their work done, where they are, from any device or portal. We are on our way in that direction.
@sonnudel Q) In what areas of IT purchasing is the GSA seeing the largest increase?
What technologies is the GSA most investing in for the future?
GSA is an interesting agency to ask this question, because we do a lot of work for other agencies in IT purchasing. I would defer to @marydavie and Tom Sharpe for a much more informed answer. However, within GSA, you will see a huge shift towards investing in agile and modular contracts, that allow our team to buy just enough, ensure mission outcomes, and then buy more as needed. We will be investing in procuring many things "as a service" to line up demand with supply. More of what we do will be in the open source arena, so that poses new acquisition challenges for us, but we are working through them.
Overall, we are looking to use what works if it works for us (public cloud services such as Google Apps for email), use someone else's solution if its already available (partnering with other agencies for hosting, apps, modules, etc.), and focusing on common platforms that can be used over and over again (reuse of code, data, APIs), rather than monilithic built-from-scratch systems.
@digiphile Q) Hi, Sonny --
A) Some of this I touched upon in my response to @empower-your-coders - Its different. The breadth of impact at the federal level of so much larger, but the intimacy with the citizen is not always as close. I have enjoyed working at the city level, and hopefully can bring some of the same rapid innovation I found at DC to the Federal level.
I have seen a tremendous shift in adoption and use of Cloud in the FEDGOV over the last couple of years. The conversation has shifted from "Can we do it?" to "How and when can we do it". FedRAMP has helped tremendously by providing a common security framework for cloud solutions to all government agencies. I sit on the Fedramp TEB along with the DOD and DHS CIOs and we are seeing a much higher level of capability, maturity among the federal Cloud Service Providers.
Agencies are much more open today, however, challenges remain. We hope that the new @18F program, FedRAMP, and the work we have done to enable and fast track Cloud acquisitions through the EaaS and IaaS BPAs under FAS would continue this acceleration
@sonnudel Here's some of the latest in how we are disrupting the federal acquisition process to help partner agencies: http://gsablogs.gsa.gov/gsablog/2014/04/09/the-future-fas-categorically-the-right-thing-to-do-for-taxpayers/
@JAHISL - What you said! You are right on and that is exactly the philosophy behind @18F - !8F is based on the successful and innovative UK DDS program. I agree that there is loads of room for a new way of building, conceptualizing, releasing and enhancing government digital services. The old school Requirements > Acquisition > Project > waterfall > failure model just doesn't cut it anymore. At GSA, we are interested in doubling down on that new way. We hope that 18F would be the think tank that can help us within GSA, and our partner agencies get there. They wont replace government CIO shops, but they will help us find that new way.
For those unfamiliar with the UK's Government Digital Service, here's more: https://gds.blog.gov.uk/
Will the GSA make the price analysis tool currently used by Contracting officers available to the public in order to help them conduct better market analysis?
Thanks for your answer Sonny but I obviously did not explain my position clearly enough.
I agree that waterfall is not the answer, but neither is "agile hacking" as advocated by GDS in the UK. I am advocating a different approach (iterative prototyping, automated software build), based on a new IT design that full exploits the Web (unlike today's solutions).
I do hope you have time to look at the video again in that light as I would be very interested in your view as I believe the new design is the most effective way forward by far.
@cjoh Additional commentary regarding the state of SAM. A few things:
1) Majority of questions we are receiving today on our help desk and online channels are not about "The system is not working". Rather, they are about "How do I partner/compete/get information". This is a good sign, but we need to do better. Ideally, the user centricity of these apps should allow users to not even have to ask the question. Our folks work terribly hard to help vendors, small businesses and contracting officers get their mission done. For example, just in the month of march, we answered 31,254, Communicated in 542 chat sessions, and responded to 1.404 online questions. Yes, these numbers should be lower, but that fact that we did each of them in under a minute, is remarkable.
I hope one day, we wont need a help desk, because users wont need help. But the federal Acquisition process is a complicated one, especially for those who have never done business with the government before. Being very good at helping them get there is a win that we are happy to take for now.
@ColeyGSA - Not sure which price analysis tool you are refering to. We are prototyping the Prices Paid Portal which is currently only available to government contracting officers. There is lots of contract level #opendata available from FPDS-NG that can be used by vendors to assess award information. Here's a link to the very ugly data extract from FPDS (https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng_cms/index.php/en/reports.html) - We are working to make it easier to ingest as use.
More to come in this area.
@JAHISL Thanks for the clarification. 18F is still new, and we are still working out the right models for projects and the right version of "Agile" to use. We will certainly take a look at the video. Thanks for sharing!
Sonny, I guess that I am really asking you, and your community, to "think outside the coding box".
Ubiquitous Web access brings with it a unique opportunity to transform IT from a microeconomic tool to a macroeconomic tool. This is a once-off opportunity that we are currently missing because we are sitting too close to the computers.
Hey guys, since we are getting to the top of the hour, let me close by first thanking everyone for the awesome comments and questions. I will be doing more of these. I am very excited about the future role technology will play in fundamentally changing GSA's mission as we move forward. As we move forward, on the one hand, more and more of our resources will reside in the cloud, accessible securely by all users and stakeholders from any device, anywhere and any time. Our business systems will migrate to open first, API drive architectures, starting with the incredibly important IAE and CAP systems portfolios. I envision that in the near future, government systems will look very different. Instead of building large, vertically integrated, monolithic systems, we will build connectivity layers between different services (internally developed or externally consumed) that add just the right value in the value chain. This will change greatly, the skills we develop internally, how we buy and deploy technologies, and how we organize ourselves.
The next 5 years will look very different from the last 25 years. Stay tuned!
The price comparison tool referenced is here:https://strategicsourcing.gov/prices-paid-tool
FPDS can provide contract value but not the product pricing.
@ColeyGSA Yup! Prices paid is in Beta right now. Great possibilities here. This will become part of the CAP strategy we are working on with FAS. Right now, it only incorporates certain data sources. We will be expanding it in the near future with the ultimate intent to open some or all of this data externally.
The source code for PPP is also available on github. Link forthcoming
@GSACIO -- respectfully, this presumes that the people inside of SAM are your audience, and that people are not locked out. Have any studies been done with people who haven't ever registered on Sam.gov?
Here's what the GSA sent Congress earlier this year about new entity registrations. I've made a chart out of it. My question isn't "what's being done to fix the horrendously broken, and continually mismanaged Sam.gov (which you've provided an answer to)" but rather, what are you doing to end this lockout?
Since Sam.gov registrations require renewal, and we're looking at between a 30% and a 50% drop in contractors available to the federal government. What this says to me is that there's an unacceptable level of churn in the contracting ecosystem that is IT mismanagement related, rather than interest related. So my concern isn't for the people that are presently in sam.gov, but for the people who can't get in.
FYI - Sam.gov registration fails when the user uses Chrome as of a month ago. Chrome represents nearly 2x the number of web browsers as Internet Explorer.
Thank you for your time @GSACIO, and thank you @ColeyGSA @cjoh @digiphile @JAHISL @OriHoffer @nzwulfin @empower-your-coders @sonnudel for participating!