White House IT Modernization Report Largely Sidesteps Oracle's Complaints

The tech giant thought the federal government should rely less on in-house expertise and open-source software. Those complaints didn't change much in a big report on modernizing government IT.

by / December 14, 2017
A side-by-side comparison of the draft report and final report on federal government IT modernization. Ben Miller/Screenshot

Back in October, Oracle made a lot of people angry with its comments on a draft White House report in which it damned federal efforts to beef up in-house development expertise, adopt open-source code and experiment with the likes of 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.

But it looks like the White House didn’t pay too much attention to what Oracle said anyway.

The American Technology Council, which President Trump established by executive order in May, released the final version of its report on federal IT modernization on Dec. 13. The report generally urges cloud adoption, enhanced cybersecurity and increased efforts to streamline technology acquisition practices.

There’s not much reflection in there, if any, of the comments from Oracle Senior Vice President Kenneth Glueck. In fact, in at least one area it did the opposite of what Glueck suggested. The Oracle executive attacked open-source software in his comments, but between the draft version and the final version ATC added in some fond language for open sourcing.

"Agencies should support the use and release of open-source software where it improves agency agility and resilience," the report reads.

Glueck also suggested that custom coding is the largest contributor to federal IT costs, and therefore the government should rely on commercial off-the-shelf software and not in-house expertise. But the final report still stressed the necessity of custom coding.

“Some service needs can only be met by developing software, or by buying software not available as a service,” the report reads.

The ATC also kept in a recommendation to the Office of Management and Budget as well as the General Services administration — home to the U.S. Digital Service, which Glueck attacked in his comments — to focus on increasing technical capabilities. That was a sharp contrast to Glueck’s assertion that the need for in-house development expertise in the government was a “false narrative.”

“[OMB and GSA should] review the impediments to moving to the cloud outlined by the agencies and will prioritize an infusion of technical talent, capital and updated security policy [developed iteratively to solve agency-specific issues] as needed to enable prioritized cloud migrations,” the report reads.

Glueck also argued against a GSA experiment to expand a governmentwide purchasing program. ATC kept that part in its report.

One area the final report did appear to reflect Glueck’s comments was in recommendation 32, where it instructed an interagency “tiger team” to tackle statutes and regulations surrounding technology acquisition with the express goal of “maximizing the use of commercial products and services.”

That was counterbalanced with a new section in the report warning government agencies to avoid vendor lock-in. Oracle’s critics have accused the company of pushing the federal government into big, long-term contracts that make it dependent on its services.

“In general, agencies should avoid unhealthy levels of dependence on specific vendors, while taking advantage of the best technologies the commercial market has to offer,” the ATC report reads.

The 50 recommendations in the report generally call for agencies to act within the next year.

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