We’re excited to celebrate another birthday here at 18F, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to reflect on how our organization has grown and continued to improve the experience of government in the last year. Here are our top accomplishments and projects of the last year, and where we’re headed next.
Top Accomplishments of 18F 2019
Assisted acquisition authority
As we announced last year we now have access to the assisted acquisition authority. This allows us to buy products and services on behalf of our partners and will help us increase the use of modular, agile contracting in government. We’ve been working with the Health and Human Services’ Head Start Office to procure a centralized system for their Training and Technical Assistance platform. We’ve also updated the 18F site to include more information about our acquisition services.
National Security and Intelligence Portfolio
At the end of last year we added our second portfolio to support our work with agencies on projects that relate to national defense. The National Security and Intelligence Portfolio allows 18F to partner with traditional defense and intelligence agencies, and also with civilian agencies working on projects that have a clear nexus with national defense.
Some of the agencies we’re currently working with include the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the U.S. Marine Corps Installation and Logistics group, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. You can learn more about the portfolio’s work in their Github Repo
Top three projects of 18F for 2019
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Electronic Advanced Planning Document (eAPD)
Medicaid information systems have had difficulties delivering value for money in states’ projects, with many instances of large contracts not delivering good outcomes or failing entirely. The Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS), the main investor in these projects, recognized that states spent excessive time and resources on the paperwork of an Advanced Planning Document (APD), which not only took attention off of the real outcomes, but also did a poor job conveying information for decision-making.
CMCS brought 18F to coach them and help research, design, and pilot a system to steer their investments toward successful, cost-effective outcomes for states and beneficiaries. This resulted in a new electronic Advanced Planning Document (eAPD). The system is designed to be more effective but also more efficient, decreasing the burden on states and state officers compared to the existing document-based process.
As a pilot, the benefits of eAPD are still being realized as the application is built out and eventually rolled out to all states and territories. Even at the pilot stage, though, state officers are already making better judgements about their investments because they’ve had first-hand experience developing software. This means CMCS is making more funding decisions which work with, rather than against, good practice to improve outcomes for states and the public.
Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence
The Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence (NSDD) program needed to develop a data strategy, something that we are increasingly hearing from agencies about as they look for ways to make their data more actionable. This project required on-site visits to DOE facilities and to several of the national laboratories maintained by DOE across the country to talk to data users and generate an understanding of what they are trying to achieve by using various data sources.
18F conducted a Path Analysis and worked with NSDD staff to “journey map” data across the enterprise — to depict how data travels from points of production to those who eventually make use of it — to better understand barriers and opportunities for making better use of data. 18F’s experience in user research and in centering users in our work are a good fit for this kind of work, and will enable us to help other agencies trying to make better use of their data.
The benefits of this data strategy for NSDD data users will be:
- More available data, meaning reduced time to identify relevant data that might be critical in supporting detection and deterrence efforts.
- More actionable data, meaning less time to combine disparate data sources, and easier access for decision makers.
- More strategic data, supporting NSDD’s efforts to streamline and modernize their data infrastructure.
We’ve been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) since 2016 to launch the Open Forest platform, an online permit issuing system. Open Forest launched in 2018 and USFS scaled the pilot last year to include 13 different forests, which is nine more forests than available at launch. During last year’s holiday season, Open Forest sold nearly 21,780 Christmas tree permits. This accounts for nearly 37% of Christmas tree permit sales in pilot forests (up from 30% of sales in 2018).
In December 2019, Open Forest began piloting USFS’s first online, interactive permit application process for special use permits. Currently, special uses applications require months of back and forth information exchange between USFS staff and applicants—much of which is carried out through the U.S. Postal Service. Moving this paper-based process online saves considerable time for applicants and USFS staff and speeds application review and approval. 18F is now helping them prepare to include additional complex permit types and integrations with legacy USFS systems.
What’s next for 18F
18F is well positioned to play an important role in accelerating digital transformation and building modern work environments across the federal government. For the remainder of FY2020 and through FY2021 the goal is to mature as an organization by focusing on two key priorities.
First, we are going to focus on solidifying business operations. This means looking at ways to make it easier to engage with 18F, provide greater impact for our partner agencies, and ensure our services align with what we do well. Providing greater impact not only requires assessing how we operate internally, but also who we partner with for success. This year we intend to form greater partnerships in the civic tech space and bring the strength of 18F’s network to solve the most complex challenges of our partner agencies.
Second, we are going to focus on refining our culture. 18F is successful because of its people. The folks that work at 18F come to this organization because of how we work, the problems we solve, and the investment we make into our culture. We plan on doubling down on culture this year by increasing employee engagement with a focus on prioritizing diversity and inclusion, growing our skills and expertise, identifying mentors, building our peer networks, and pursuing projects that stretch our capabilities.