The Potential Impact of the Office of American Innovation on Contractors

Published: March 29, 2017

Acquisition ReformInformation TechnologyIT ReformPresident Trump

A new White House office is set up to incorporate business ideas into the restructure and management of the federal government, with possible implications for technology contractors.

Nicknamed the “SWAT” team of the White House, President Trump announced the creation of the Office of American Innovation (OAI) made up of consultants from the private sector tasked with presenting innovative ideas to the president to revitalize government functions. The memorandum describing the office states that it will “focus on implementing policies and scaling proven private-sector models to spur job creation and innovation.”

According to an article from the Washington Post, the new office has been tasked with large projects such as IT and data infrastructure modernization for federal departments, workforce-training reprogramming, developing “transformative projects” for the Trump infrastructure plan and remodeling the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Senior advisor and son-in-law to the President, Jared Kushner, will lead the office made up of top names from the tech industry including, Tim Cook from Apple, Bill Gates from Microsoft, Marc Benioff from Salesforce and Elon Musk from Tesla. The team will also consist of other government officials from the White House such as Gary Cohn from the National Economic Council, Chris Liddell for strategic initiatives, Reed Cordish for intergovernmental and technology initiatives and Dina Powell from the National Security Council. All members range from no to very little political experience.

However, this concept of bringing innovation from the private sector to solve government’s problems is not a new one, especially in the technology sector. In 2014 under the Obama administration, the U.S. Digital Services (USDS) and 18F offices were created to tackle high-risk technology and digital initiatives. Both offices bring in employees from the private tech industry sector with experiences and ideas to be applied in the public space. While the makeup of the offices are the same, the Office of American Innovation seems to be broader in scope than USDS and 18F, looking at the management and organization of the different segments in government. It seems that all of these offices are likely work hand in hand down the line, with the new one under Kushner serving as an “umbrella” for public-private workmanship.  

But perhaps looking at the projects and initiatives USDS and 18F have worked on in the past two-plus years will help give a glimpse of how the Office of American Innovation may impact the contractor world.

USDS is an office under the White House with missions at different federal departments and agencies to work on initiating different digital platforms and services and supporting better data buying procedures. The office also works on critical technologies and projects – including coming to the rescue of the debacle. Some of the programs USDS has helped to institute that eventually led to private sector contracts and task orders include the College Scorecard under Education and the building of the consolidated at the VA.

Meanwhile, 18F is housed under GSA with a purpose to “fix technical problems, build products, and improve how government serves the public through technology,” according to the group’s site. Among its initiatives, the group has most impacted contractors by standing up various services to aide in effective and more efficient acquisition initiatives such as RFP Ghostwriting, 18F Marketplaces, Micro-Purchase Platform and most recently, the Digital Acquisition Pilot.

Since the Office of American Innovation is providing policy recommendations and direct reports to the president, it has a few resources it can start with in tackling federal technology and acquisition difficulties. Ironically, the GAO just released a report identifying key issues within IT workforce planning, the IT Dashboard and incremental development of technology investments. The report cites 202 new recommendations just in FY 2016 for IT acquisitions and operation deficiencies. Another resource the new office should consider is the report released in January by the CIO Council on the current status of federal IT, which is summarized here.

As the presidential memorandum further states “This office will bring together the best ideas from Government, the private sector, and other thought leaders to ensure that America is ready to solve today's most intractable problems, and is positioned to meet tomorrow's challenges and opportunities.” If trends under other private sector-led initiatives and offices provide any indication, the Office of American Innovation is sure to bring more opportunities and streamlined procedures to federal tech contractors in the coming future.