A Peace Corps For Programmers: A proposal for reforming government technology innovation

On top of keeping the government from innovating, the dependence on contractors hurts the country in much more tangible ways. In February 2003, a few weeks into my job as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Defense (DoD), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia officially changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro. My job was to maintain an enormous database of facilities in Eastern Europe, including labeling each one with a country name. But the tool we used didn’t have an option for “Serbia and Montenegro,” so on the day of the name change, I emailed the contract officer in charge of the database with a simple request: “This country changed its name. Could you please update the tool to reflect this?”

Doing so would have taken a computer programmer less than five minutes. But instead, he used that time to respond to my email:

“We’ll consider it for the next version.”

In other words, his current contract — written months prior — didn’t account for changes in the geopolitical landscape, so there was no paperwork explicitly authorizing him to make this change. To do it, he would have to wait until the contract was renewed (months or years from now) and the government allotted funds for this five-minute job. It wasn’t his fault; he was no doubt aware of how easy it was to make this change. But doing it without permission from either his boss or the government would spell trouble. Yugoslavia didn’t exist anymore. Except inside our office, where we had to wait for a contract to make it so.

Tipping Point: The Extinction of Pencils

Competition Is Critical to Any Ecosystem

Creating a Developer Corps

Conclusion

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Thoughts about good government, civic responsibility, and national security.

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