Culture eats policy
There’s a convenient punching bag for many of these failures: outdated government technology, and outdated approaches to tech by the bureaucracy. But try to fix that through policy change and you’ll find it’s turtles all the way down. The levers leaders use to fix tech are the same ones they use to steer the economy, improve government-funded healthcare, manage immigration, and even strengthen our national defense. We increase budgets, cut budgets, make new rules, and hold hearings, but the tools we use to fix our tools aren’t working either.
The people on this project knew quite well that using this ESB was a terrible idea. They’d have been relieved to just throw it out, plug in the simple protocol, and move on. But they couldn’t. It was a requirement in their contract. The contracting officers had required it because a policy document called the Air Force Enterprise Architecture had required it. The Air Force Enterprise Architecture required it because the Department of Defense Enterprise Architecture required it. And the DoD Enterprise Architecture required it because the Federal Enterprise Architecture, written by the Chief Information Officers Council, convened by the White House at the request of Congress, had required it. Was it really possible that this project was delayed indefinitely, racking up cost overruns in the billions, because Congress has ordered the executive branch to specify something as small and technical as an ESB?
Jack beat them all, winning the contest and demonstrating not only his enormous skills in securing critical national security systems, but an incredible enthusiasm for serving his country. He was a dream candidate, and the Defense Digital Service (DDS), the team that had sponsored the Hack the Pentagon contest, encouraged Jack to apply for a job. But the resume Jack submitted described his experience developing “mobile applications in IonicJS, mobile applications using Angular, and APIs using Node.js, MongoDB, npm, Express gulp, and Babel”. This would have given a technical manager a good sense of the range of his skills, but no one technical reviewed his resume. DoD’s hiring protocols, like those of most agencies, required that it be reviewed by an HR staffer with a background in government hiring rules, not technology. The staffer saw what looked like a grab bag of gobbledygook and tried to match it to the job description, which required “experience that demonstrated accomplishment of computer-project assignments that required a wide range of knowledge of computer requirements and techniques pertinent to the position to be filled.” The fact that he’d just beat out 600 other security researchers meant nothing. His resume was deemed “not minimally qualified” and didn’t make the first cut.