DoD will empower military branches to directly procure cloud services

The Defense Department is changing its approach to procuring cloud services, moving away from a two-year-old policy designating the Defense Information Systems Agency as the department’s de facto cloud broker.

In a new memo expected to be released by the end of October, the department’s new policies will grant cloud-buying power to the military services, according to officials. The new guidelines direct military officials to provide the DoD CIO office with detailed business case analyses for cloud decisions, while also complying with acquisition requirements and evolving cybersecurity mandates.

The forthcoming memo will replace the 2012 cloud strategy released by then-DoD CIO Teri Takai.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140924/FEDIT01/309240020/DoD-will-empower-military-branches-directly-procure-cloud-services

Agencies and industry prepare for new contract

While waiting for the Homeland Security Department’s next IT acquisition vehicle to become fully operational, agencies and businesses are preparing for takeoff.

Vendors awarded contracts on the Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions II are participating in industry groups to learn more about requirements, promoting the vehicle to customers, strengthening their own capabilities to distinguish themselves from competitors, and maintaining partner relationships.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140904/ACQ03/309040011/Agencies-industry-prepare-new-contract

Contracting officers: Take a look, it’s in a book

A bill to reform how the government buys and manages technology came up this week at a hearing about the security of HealthCare.gov — but contracting officers willing to plunge into some heavy reading may discover they already have a lot of the capability they need.

While Republicans grilled Obamacare officials about a recent hack — and other vulnerabilities — of their signature website, one Democrat used the occasion to plug what may be his favorite piece of pending legislation: The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA.

“Isn’t information security related to how well we’re managing our IT assets?” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., asked officials. He gave a brief description of what FITARA would do for IT managers; the bill actually has plenty of support and seems only to await action.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/09/you-already-have-power-procure-it-look-within/94607/

The GSA Digital Service’s TechFAR Handbook can be found at: https://github.com/WhiteHouse/playbook/blob/gh-pages/_includes/techfar-online.md

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.

‘We’ve got to stop throwing Hail Marys’

The future of federal IT contracting could look a lot like the environment at Google and other high-tech companies, where cutting costs and boosting efficiencies are as routine as breathing. But, say former and current procurement officials, winning the future will still involve knowing the nitty-gritty of what an agency is trying to accomplish with its IT contracts.

Being able to act quickly and effectively in the face of technology that has outpaced government’s ability to buy it effectively is a constant challenge, according to panel discussions at the National Contract Managers Association’s 2014 conference in Washington on July 28. In the face of similar challenges, private industry has adopted shorter development cycles coupled with more agile techniques.

If we want real innovation, we need to stop looking for ways to circumvent the federal acquisition system and work together to improve it, writes Stan Soloway.

Federal agencies are just beginning to do the same.

“We’ve got to stop throwing ‘Hail Marys” at large federal IT projects, Joe Jordan, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now president of public sector at FedBid, said during a panel on technology’s impact on acquisition. “It’s got to be broken up into five- to 10-yard passes.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/Articles/2014/07/28/No-more-Hail-Marys.aspx?Page=1&p=1

Contractors group would restructure White House procurement shop

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/contractors-group-would-restructure-white-house-procurement-shop/89870/

Read the full report by and recommendations of the Professional Services Council at: The PSC Acquisition and Technology Policy Agenda – 07.28.2014

Management of HealthCare.gov website now open for bid proposals

The White House has begun its search for the next stewards of HealthCare.gov.

contract solicitation posted online Wednesday enumerates the qualifications and requirements of the next Obamacare website contractor, charged with keeping the online federal health insurance exchange portal up and running.

The 60-page job posting says the next caretaker of the Obamacare site will need to be able to work “under aggressive time constraints” to work with the Federally Facilitated Marketplace in testing and upgrading a variety of hardware, software, and security features. It also states that the contractor will need to be able to perform tests that can demonstrate that the site can function when a large number of users are online.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2014/07/obama-administration-looking-next-obamacare-website-contractor/88927

Teaching feds not to fear the FAR

From the General Services Administration’s 18F technology incubator and Health and Human Services’ emerging Buyers Club program to the Office of Management and Budget’s TechFAR guide, federal procurement officials have been busy rolling out plans aimed at reshaping the way government thinks about buying and developing IT.

Those officials are hoping the programs will spur the conservative, risk-averse federal procurement culture to more keenly navigate existing regulations and take more chances in IT acquisition.

The dense Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) issued by the Department of Defense, GSA, and NASA, is a primary target of the programs. More than a few federal officials and technology vendors have grown disillusioned with the FAR – or rather with how it has been used — arguing that it is wielded far too conservatively and is offers far more room for innovative than it’s given credit for.

Frustration with stagnant, staid FAR thinking spurred Health and Human Services to develop its Buyers Club program this spring. HHS officials talked publicly about development of the program in May, rolled out a Buyer’s Club web site June 24 and plan to accelerate the effort in the coming months, Bryan Sivak, HHS chief technology officer, told FCW.

Sivak said the program’s goal is to blaze new trails through the FAR that HHS contracting officers can follow to more efficient, innovative and successful IT procurement. Citing a Standish Group study that estimated roughly 90 percent of federal IT procurements valued at over $10 million fail, Sivak said it was obvious old thinking was not cutting it.  “Even if that estimate is a little on the high side, the numbers are still too way too high,” he said. “With those numbers, what’s the risk of trying to do something new?”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/07/14/far-fearing-feds.aspx 

VA forming cadre of specially-trained acquisition workers

The Veterans Affairs Department is recognizing and rewarding the success of its acquisition workers.

VA is professionalizing the acquisition workforce in a way comparable only to the Defense Department.

“We are establishing a professional acquisition corps in order to provide the benefits to VA by having a very specified cadre of highly-trained contracting officers and program managers who have a demonstrated history of high performance, and are qualified to lead VA’s most critical and high visibility programs and procurements,” said Ford Heard, VA’s associate deputy assistant secretary for Procurement Policy, Systems and Oversight and deputy senior procurement executive, during an interview on Federal News Radio’s In- Depth with Francis Rose.

“From a VA perspective, we are basically a soup to nuts organization as far as what is being procured in VA.  Not only is it IT.  Not only is it high professional quality healthcare services, but all the facility management requirements that anyone of our healthcare facilities would utilize. So, what we are actually doing is building this acquisition corps to really benefit veterans in the service we offer, and the opportunities for our employees to advance and receive training that they would not normally get under past circumstances.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/538/3654616/VA-forming-cadre-of-specially-trained-acquisition-workers 

Procurement troubles still dog Defense Department

Congress has held hearings over the past 30 years seeking ways to fix the Defense Department’s poor procurement system.

A June 24th hearing offered interesting ideas.

No headlines afterward about stopping F-35 costs from skyrocketing, keeping new production of nuclear aircraft carriers on schedule or halting the failure of billion-dollar computer programs — in fact, there was hardly any press coverage at all.

Two worthwhile ideas that came from the four experienced procurement specialists who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee provided no silver bullets, but they made sense.

  1. Give the main contracting officer for major weapons projects absolute cradle-to-grave authority and responsibility and accountability.
  2. Interservice rivalry and even intraservice competition have far from ended, and they harm the procurement system.