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EDITORIAL: 18F earns an F

Progressives have long held the wild belief that there are many things the federal government can do just as well as the private sector. Health care springs immediately to mind, with millions of Americans recently learning that their premiums are set to skyrocket once again, thanks to the “Affordable” Care Act.

Now, the feds seem to think they can replicate Silicon Valley and save taxpayers money. Not surprisingly, that hasn’t been the case so far.

The Associated Press reported this week that the Obama administration’s “18F” program to create its own version of a high-tech startup for government digital projects has foundered since its launch in 2014, losing nearly $32 million. A new inspector general report also revealed that the 18F staff spent most of its time on unbillable work.

The program, named after its Washington street address, was intended to create an elite branch of the General Services Administration with creative, tech-savvy employees who could quickly re-engineer any government agency’s website or improve other digital projects. The idea, the wire service writes, was that the program would earn more money than it cost to run by making digital projects more efficient.

Instead, the GSA’s inspector general report noted that senior 18F managers overestimated the amount of money their projects would recoup and devoted less than half the program’s staff time on projects for which it could bill other federal agencies. It noted the 18F program has “struggled financially” and “has not developed a viable plan to achieve full cost recovery.”

Color us shocked. But wait, there’s more.

The AP reported that the 10-month probe found 52 percent of 18F’s work was unbillable and included an internal project to change its logo. In all, 727 staff hours, or $140,104, were spent on developing the brand, including that logo change. Further, staff spent 13,989 hours, worth $2.34 million, promoting their work through blog posts, websites, social media and speaking events. And another $239,950 was dumped on the program’s internal timekeeping system. Can’t these tech-savvy guys just hit Amazon.com and buy a few decent clocks?

And speaking of guys, that’s a problem with 18F, too. The AP revealed that about 20 hours, or $4,148, was spent on two customized “bots” for its online messaging program, to monitor user messages for the words “guys,” ”guyz” and “dudes,” which the PC speech police argue are not inclusive for women.

The $32 million in losses is less than a drop in the bucket relative to the thousands of other examples of government waste. But it’s another example of bureaucratic bungling and incompetence.

The 18F program gets a big fat “F” for a grade. Time to shut it down, guys … er, persons of any kind.

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