FEDTECH: As agencies began improvement, what avenues did they take?
POWNER: One of the key changes was incremental development. The problem in the federal government has been these big waterfall approaches. We work on a project, and it’s two or three years before we deliver functioning software. If we have a software development project, we should strive to deliver something in six months. When we did the first scorecard in November 2015, about 58 percent of the projects across the government were planning to deliver in six months. Now, that’s up to about 87 percent. That’s real progress.
FEDTECH: How much infrastructure needed to change in order to comply?
POWNER: The big thing is really the movement to cloud computing — we bought infrastructure, or we bought Software as a Service, that type of thing. The other good thing that has occurred is the focus on buying and not building. Historically, the government built, built, built. Veterans Affairs built their own electronic health records 35 years ago; now it’s a monster to maintain, so they’ve gone with a commercial product. The government’s in a transition phase right now, and that is movement in the right direction.
FEDTECH: Is it more important for agencies to catch up to existing requirements or to look ahead to meet possible future requirements?
POWNER: That’s an interesting question. Each agency has a different story. Take the IRS, for instance. They have no choice; they’ve got to implement the tax code. In general, it is a mixed bag, and it depends on the mission. However, some of the current requirements could be met more efficiently.