If you’re new to practicing technology in the Federal Government - welcome! Government is a strange place with its own rules and ways of doing things. Things that are easy in the private sector, like buying and installing development tools, become an inscrutable series of barriers and gates. These hurdles all exist for specific reasons, and although there are many context-specific strategies to overcome them, it can be helpful to start with the laws and policies that created them.
It can take months or years to become knowledgeable on these topics, and this guide should not be considered a substitute for a more formal education. But it may help you figure out where to look or who to ask for answers.
A few of the most important laws regarding Federal IT include:
- FITARA – IT oversight & Chief Information Officer (CIO) authorities
- FISMA – IT security requirements
- Clinger-Cohen – IT oversight & financial management
Some of the areas that most frequently cause confusion or friction in government technology include:
Unsolicited Advice & Caution
This wouldn’t be a very good website if it didn’t include some unsolicited opinions and advice. Here are a few things to note in dealing with government policy:
First, the policies that make up the bureaucracy of government are convoluted and disconnected. It is rare that any single policy document will encompass all of the weird revisions and nuances that have been introduced over the years. This site is designed to help make those connections, but you will inevitably find others not covered here.
Second, most IT policies in the U.S. government were not written by IT experts. Frequently a small handful of economic policy analysts and junior contractors are writing language that must be implemented and enforced by the nearly two million government employees. These policies rarely incorporate public or agency feedback.
Third, although the bureaucracy may seem inassailable at first, like any complex system it can be poked at and prodded to produce desired results. As in any technical discipline, learning to Read The Flipping Manual can be a super-power for any professional in government. However, this site does not cover policy making, as other folks who are smarter have covered this topic at length.
Last, any attempt to fix things will inevitably become a barrier in the future. No matter how well-intentioned your efforts, it is impossible to predict all possible outcomes or take into account all opinions that will ever emerge. In most cases, that also means that it’s often better to remove prescriptive policies rather than creating new ones. Not everything is fixable, and very little is fixable quickly.
Talk to experts, avoid hubris, practice stewardship not ownership. Move Carefully and Fix Things.
How to Use This Site
For laws or policies on this website, you’ll often see an info box like this one, which gives the following information:
If you’re looking for more information on a specific law, you should look for it on GovTrack.
Whenever you see this icon , the attached paragraph should be read as opinion, not fact. This is where the authors of this site will be editorializing on the topic at hand. Your own experience may vary from any information given.