Notes and Reflections by feoMike

barriers to innovation

the antideficiency act is the law currently being invoked for having government employees not work. essentially is says that no one can commit the government to an expense without first having money to spend, as authorized by congress. it came up 120 odd years ago, because there were emergency cases where the executive branch spent money without first asking congress, then congress had to come up w/ the money after the fact; essentially obligating the government to spend something before full and democratic debate. a complete understanding of the antideficiency act is found on the GAO web site. a couple of recent articles in slate.com and CNBC.com do a reasonable job of describing why most federal employees can’t work during the shutdown.

there are all kinds of caveats here and this is not meant to legal review. the basic issue invoked, is that a federal employee cannot volunteer for federal work, because that would be considered obligating the government for payment outside of congressional authority.

i began reflecting on this issue, particularly when it comes to information technology in government. often in govt. IT we have to balance new technology implementation, testing new skills and developing product strategy, with keeping current systems running. while the private sector has the same demands, the difference with govt. IT is that govt. IT also has a significant body of rules, regulations and even laws which govern its development (eg the antideficiency act).

the antideficiency act is just one, but one worth exploring. we demand that govt. IT provide all the technology needs of today and be innovative, and even provide service which drives economic development. imagine if a lean startup had the antideficiency act rules? employees wouldn’t be allowed to write code off hours, because that would be volunteering. employees wouldn’t be allowed to think about workflow during their bike commute, because that would be volunteering. employees wouldn’t be allowed to stay late, just because they wanted to test some ideas with a new set of technology that came on the market, because that would be volunteering. employees wouldn’t be allowed to write code at home to test some new open source technology, which could have drastic impact on work related systems.

we talk all the time in govt. IT about how we need to emulate the lean startup mentality, but have a significant number of barriers (the antideficiency act being only one) which limit our ability to be innovative.

i am dedicated, just like any lean startup, to making my product work, and work better than anyone else (i would link to sites that i manage or help build, but they are currently shut down). i do this because i am passionate about data driven decisions in making public policy better and using cutting edge technology to do so. i am caught in that there are laws potentially prohibiting me from being that innovative.