Seven years after the creation of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) and 18F, the Federal Government still struggles to buy, build, and operate technology in a modern, scalable way. While there have been small success stories, most government technology and delivery practices remain antiquated and ineffective. Critical systems underperforming during the COVID-19 crisis is the latest example of technology and delivery failing to meet the needs of Americans. The federal government will spend $90.9 billion on information technology (IT) projects in fiscal year (FY) 21, an increase of $15.3 billion since it began to embrace the digital-services movement in earnest in FY14 in response the high failure rate of federal IT projects. Yet the public is not receiving the value expected from this substantial investment in technology. Between 2003 and 2012, only 6.4% of IT projects with a budget of over $10 million were considered successful. 41% were complete failures that had to be scrapped and started again. There is no evidence that performance has improved on a large scale since FY12.
In spite of efforts to implement transformative technological practices, most government systems still fail to meet modern standards or expectations. The next administration should undertake a series of actions outlined in this memo to scale proven IT modernization strategies across the Federal Government to improve its structure and culture, and buy, build, and deliver technology that meets the needs of Americans today and into the future.