Can the federal acquisition process support innovation?

There is widespread agreement that the federal government’s process for acquiring goods and services needs to change to enable agencies to keep with the rapid pace of technology development. But with more than 1,800 pages of rules and regulations governing that process—known as the Federal Acquisition Regulation—there is growing concern that the government cannot truly support innovation without a dramatic simplification of the rules.

“I think we can get there. To do that, I think we need additional changes in the FAR,” said Wolfe Tombe, chief technology officer at U.S Customs and Border Protection, in an exclusive interview with FedScoop. “I think the FAR needs to evolve to actually support innovation.”

According to Tombe, the federal acquisition process needs to be streamlined to remove existing obstacles to the private sector’s ability to interact with federal requirements managers. “Now we go out with a request for proposals and we’ll say what we think we need, and I think a lot of times there are vendors who could come back if the FAR allowed it, and [recommend better, more cost-effective solutions],” Tombe said. “The FAR needs to be redone so it enables that kind of interaction. It’s hard [for a vendor] to come back and say they have a better idea.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fedscoop.com/really-needs-done-acquisition-reform/

DOD releases RFP for $11 billion health record project

After more than a year of preparation, the Defense Department released its request for proposals for its new electronic health record (EHR) procurement on Aug. 25. The single-award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is expected to have a total lifetime cost of $11 billion through 2030.

The Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization was created after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel scrapped a plan to combine DOD’s and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ EHR systems into a single solution in May 2013.

DHMSM seeks a single, commercial product to be adapted to the military’s unique set of needs and requirements, which include full interoperability with the VA’s VistA health records system and private-sector interoperability standards. It will reach a population of about 9.6 million service members, retirees and dependents.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/Articles/2014/08/26/DOD-DHMSM-RFP.aspx

Taming the wild west of cloud acquisition

For acquisition professionals, buying cloud computing is a bit like stepping from a 21st-century city into the Wild West. Federal buyers must move from the known, predictable, more or less standard procurement world into one that is unknown, unfamiliar and as yet untamed.

It’s no wonder that in ASI Government’s polls of acquisition professionals at 110 federal organizations, 64 percent of respondents believe they lack the necessary technical expertise in cloud computing and thus are challenged in structuring contracts for it.

“There’s no exact fit for commercial cloud in the [Federal Acquisition Regulation],” Mark Day, deputy assistant commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Office of Integrated Technology Services, told attendees at a March conference on cloud acquisition.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/08/26/acquisition-matters-cloud.aspx

Big win for Amazon: 1st provider authorized to handle sensitive DoD workloads in cloud

Amazon Web Services has become the first commercial cloud provider authorized to handle the Defense Department’s most sensitive unclassified data.

Today’s announcement that AWS has achieved a provisional authority to operate under DOD’s cloud security model at impact levels 3-5 is a major win for the company, as it allows DOD customers to provision commercial cloud services for the largest chunks of their data.

In technical speak, the provisional ATO granted by the Defense Information Systems Agency means DOD customers can use AWS’ GovCloud – an isolated region entirely for U.S. government customers – through a private connection routed to DOD’s network. DOD customers can now secure AWS cloud services through a variety of contract vehicles.

In layman’s terms, AWS is the first company with the ability to take any and all of DOD’s unclassified data to the cloud.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cloud-computing/2014/08/big-win-amazon-first-provider-authorized-handle-sensitive-dod-workloads/92069

Court of Federal Claims rejects attempt to shoehorn what it characterizes as a contract administration matter into a bid protest

Recently, the CFC rejected a bid protest action filed by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) with respect to one of the Army’s LOGCAP contracts. The contractor had performed the logistics and civil augmentation contract, under which the Army issued task orders for different years, on a “cost-reimbursement basis.” When the Army tried to change to a firm-fixed price arrangement for the 2013 close-out period, KBR balked and refused to submit a proposal—instead filing a bid protest action. The CFC dismissed the case, ruling that KBR did not properly invoke the court’s bid protest jurisdiction but rather was attempting to litigate a contract administration dispute.

After years of submitting cost-reimbursement proposals under the LOGCAP agreement, it seems reasonable that KBR didn’t want to switch to a firm-fixed price basis for the close-out period, as “there was ‘no way to accurately define the scope or duration of work’ and [the] ‘[l]egal, administrative compliance, audit response, vendor issues, subcontract close-out, and dispute resolution . . . are all unknowns.'”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=334576

FEMA’s 50% rule costing gov’t hundreds of millions of dollars in overpayments

Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost due to a misinterpretation of a Federal Emergency Management Agency rule that funds the replacement or repair of facilities after a natural disaster, according to a recent Homeland Security Department inspector general report.

FEMA’s public assistance program provides financial assistance for people in the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and terrorists attack. The agency spends around $10 billion every year for the Disaster Relief Fund to help people rebuild after a natural disaster.

Under the 50 percent rule, FEMA will replace a facility if the estimated cost of repair exceeds 50 percent of the estimated cost to replace it.

But applying FEMA’s 50 percent repair or replace rule correctly can be very difficult and susceptible to error, misinterpretation and manipulation, the report dated Aug. 7 said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercehomelandsecurity.com/story/ig-femas-50-percent-rule-costing-govt-hundreds-millions-dollars-overpayment/2014-08-21

Buying what works: Case studies in innovative contracting

Last week, the White House announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a new team of America’s best digital experts dedicated to improving and simplifying the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.  The USDS team has already begun to make progress by releasing the TechFAR Handbook, a guide that helps explain how Federal agencies can take advantage of existing procurement authorities to execute key plays in the Digital Services Playbook.

The Federal Government has long used its buying power as one of the world’s largest customers to accelerate well-known innovations, from the first microchips to the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Today, Federal agencies continue to leverage innovative procurement practices that spur the private sector to develop advanced technologies to better serve the American people – and to pay only for successful results, not just best efforts.

Today, the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget are pleased to release the first version of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, an iterative, evolving document that describes a number of ways Federal agencies are getting more innovation per taxpayer dollar – all under existing laws and regulations. For example, NASA has used milestone-based payments to promote private sector competition for the next generation of astronaut transportation services and moon exploration robots.  The Department of Veterans Affairs issued an invitation for short concept papers that lowered barriers for non-traditional government contractors, which led to the discovery of powerful new technologies in mobile health and trauma care.  The Department of Defense has used head-to-head competitions in realistic environments to identify new robot and vehicle designs that will protect soldiers on the battlefield.

We encourage both private sector stakeholders and public servants to engage in a sustained public discussion, identifying new case studies and improving this document’s usefulness in future iterations.  At the same time, Federal government employees can join a community of practice around innovative contracting by signing up for the new “Buyers Club” email group (open to all .gov and .mil email addresses).  This “Buyers Club” group should provide a useful forum for troubleshooting and sharing best practices across the Federal government, serving everyone from contracting officers with deep expertise in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to program managers looking for new ways to achieve their agencies’ missions.

All of these innovative contracting efforts are aligned with President Obama’s management agenda to deliver a 21st century government that is more effective, efficient, and supportive of economic growth, including specific cross-agency initiatives on Smarter IT deliverystrategic sourcing, and shared services.  We encourage readers to join the public discussion of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, or sign up for the Feds-only “Buyers Club” email group.  We look forward to raising awareness about the many ways that the Federal Government can use the power of the purse to deliver powerful and cost-effective technology solutions for the American people.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Lesley Field is the Deputy Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

IG: Google executive broke ethics rules while heading-up DARPA

A Google executive who previously ran a $3 billion Pentagon agency tasked with developing technology for the U.S. military violated ethics rules by pitching products from a company she had previously founded, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pentagon’s watchdog agency.

Regina E. Dugan, who ran the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from July 2009 until March 2012, was cited by the Defense Department Inspector General’s office for endorsing a specific product, service or enterprise, a breach of ethics.

The IG found that while serving as DARPA’s director she briefed numerous senior defense officials on methods for U.S. troops to find improvised explosive devices and bomb-making facilities. The meetings created potential business opportunities for the company RedXDefense, LLC, in which she was a former chief executive officer, said the IG report, released to The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act.

“In communications with senior DoD officials, she used RedX proprietary and other materials originally developed for and used in RedX sales presentations,” states the IG report. “She advanced a theory integral to RedX product development, promoted a multi-step process the RedX product suite used to implement the theory, highlighted the results of field trials that used RedX products to demonstrate the efficacy of the theory and process, and featured a RedX sales slogan. She also endorsed the adoption of an effort to put sensors on dogs, an extension of a DARPA project on which RedX performed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/08/13/watchdog-google-executive-broke-ethics-rules-while-working-for-pentagons-darpa

IG says Army paid too much upgrading Russian copters

U.S. Army contracting officers overpaid an American company upgrading Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters as contract costs increased almost 70 percent, according to an audit by the Pentagon inspector general.

The Army Contracting Command has responded that it will seek to recoup $128,990 of $151,543 in what the audit called “excess fees” paid since 2010 to Columbia, Maryland-based Science and Engineering Services Inc. The remaining $22,553 in fees was justified, according to the audit by the inspector general dated July 28.

While the amounts wouldn’t put a dent in the Pentagon’s $496 billion annual base budget, the inspector general’s report is the latest of three to question the contracting practices of an Army-run office set up in 2010 to manage the purchase and maintenance of foreign-made helicopters such as the medium-lift Mi-17 transport helicopters sold to U.S. allies Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-12/u-s-army-paid-too-much-upgrading-russian-copters-audit.html

IG: USPS should rescind its facilities contract delegation

The Postal Service should rescind its facilities contract delegation because the contracting officers aren’t required to meet professional qualifications or establish competition requirements, an Aug. 5 USPS inspector general report says.

USPS’s Supply Management office is responsible for approving contracts to acquire goods and services, but they can delegate contracting authority to personnel outside of Supply Management, the report says.

In September 2013, the Postal Service reported six delegations. And though five of those delegations have performed well, the facilities delegation hasn’t, the IG says.

Facilities did not require contracting officers to meet professional qualifications or establish sufficient competition requirements for contracts, the report says. Also, the facilities delegation could not identify its active contracts and did not timely submit the required annual reports.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/ig-usps-should-rescind-its-facilities-contract-delegation/2014-08-12