General Services Administration (GSA) Needs Help Testing Their FedBizOpps API

The General Services Administration (GSA) has an open call for help to test the new FedBizOpps API. Setting a pretty compelling precedent for releasing APIs in the federal government, slowly bringing federal agencies out of their shell, and moving the API conversation forward in government. Hopefully it will be something that other federal agencies, and other levels of government will consider as they move forward on their API journeys.

It is good to see federal agencies reaching out to ask for help in making sure APIs are well designed, deliver value, and operate as expected. In my experience, most government agencies are gun-shy when it comes to seeking outside help, and accepting criticism when it comes to their work. The GSA is definitely the most progressive on this front, but they are leading by example, showing other agencies what is possible, and something that hopefully will spread. Something I am always keen to support with my storytelling here on API Evangelist.

One thing I’d caution federal agencies on when seeking outside feedback in this area, is to be mindful of fatigue in the private sector when it comes to working for free. API providers have been encouraging developers to document, test, develop code libraries, and other essential aspects of operating APIs for years now, and many developers are growing weary of this exploitation by companies who can afford to pay, but choose not to. While it is good that government is getting on the API bandwagon here, but be aware that you are about 5+ years behind, and the tides are shifting.

I’d recommend thinking about how micro-procurement models emerging at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies can be applied to testing, performance, security, and other needs agencies will have. Think about how you can create $500, $1,000, and other opportunities for professional testers to make money. Of course, you are going to have to establish a way of vetting developers, but once you do, you are going to get a higher level work than you would for free. It might take more effort to lay the groundwork, but it will be something that will pay off down the road with a community of external professionals who can hep tackle micro-tasks that emerge while developing and operating government APIs.

Overall, I’m stoked to see stuff like this come out of the government. I’m just eager to see it spread to other federal agencies, shifting how digital services are delivered. I’m also eager to see more mock or virtualized APIs exposed publicly, long before any code is actually written. Bringing in outside opinions early on, allowing APIs to be more efficiently delivered–ensuring they are more mature, without the costly evolutionary and versioning process. I’m going to push more projects I’m involved in to follow GSA’s lead, and solicit outside testers to join in and provide feedback at critical steps in the API delivery process. The more agencies do this, the more likely they will to have a trusted group of outside developers, to step up when they need help, and have tasks like this to accomplish.