Confronting the practical barriers to better government web products.
In December 2010, I joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as an early member of its technology team. I spent the second half of my three years at the CFPB as the Deputy CIO and Acting CIO. Our team earned lots of praise for its web products (and will continue to do so, I’m sure). Now that I’ve left, I’d like to share some lessons I learned.
The CFPB is new. You might therefore discount the CFPB’s online success as a moment-in-time achievement whose lessons will not help any agency that is saddled with legacy culture, legacy systems, and the GS pay scale (the CFPB pays higher salaries than most agencies). Having worked in such agencies, I understand the belief that a fresh start creates a freeway to success. I won’t lie: the lack of legacy culture was invaluable. (As for legacy systems, we have more of those than you might think.) But instead of seeing the CFPB’s clean slate as an experiment that nobody can learn from, I see it as a test-bed for ideas that, while technically achievable for any agency, are avoided by any agency unwilling to be the first to do so. The CFPB has dipped the federal government’s foot into several new pools. I hope other agencies will soon follow, and that the lessons I share here will help them do so.
Audience note: This is meant to be a practical guide for my fellow civil servants. It includes mundane details on bureaucratic machinations that might bore outsiders who were hoping for a riff on healthcare.gov. My primary goal is to help my peers. My secondary goal is to show outside observers that any attempt to improve government technology must ultimately address practical challenges — talent and tools — and that the ongoing press attention regarding poor government IT should be shifted thusly.
The CFPB's open source policy focuses on mission and code sharing.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as the nation's "startup federal agency," has the opportunity to start with blank slate. In this guest post, its deputy CIO explains the thinking behind its new open source software policy and strategy.