There’s hope for local procurement reform amid ongoing struggles

It’s not a secret that the procurement process is problematic across all levels of government in the United States. That’s certainly true in local jurisdictions.

The Promise ...Procurement has especially been a source of frustration in tech circles, where it might not be surprising for vendors to find a root canal more pleasant than dealing with cumbersome and antiquated municipal RFP processes usually designed for purchasing physical products than IT services.

While procurement problems persist, there’s some hope, too.

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Can government be agile?

Agile is having a moment. With a promise of faster and better outcomes for everything from start-ups to the labyrinthine federal government approach to services procurement, the agile way is very much in the spotlight.

But along with this sudden fame comes the inevitable oversimplifications and forced contrasts, such as the supposed clash of the methodologies that pits agile against formal project management.

U.S. Digital ServiceThis is an artificial debate. The truth is that these two approaches can and do co-exist successfully. Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements; agile allows teams to deliver projects piece-by-piece and make rapid adjustments as needed. Agile is not done in place of managing a project. Instead, it is frequently introduced as a way to speed up phases of a project.

TechFAR Handbook TOC 08.2015With its promise of a faster path to the right results and more satisfied customers – especially on complex projects – it’s no wonder that agile is a cornerstone of U.S. CIO Tony Scott’s mission to vastly improve customer satisfaction with federal technology services. This Agenda has already yielded such practical tools as the Digital Services Playbook—actually released and made public by Scott’s predecessor Todd Park—whose 13 plays from proven private sector best practices include Play 4, “Build the service using agile and iterative processes.” There is also the TechFAR Handbook, a helpful guide to flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that can make it easier for agencies to implement plays in the Playbook through acquisition.

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The culture shift of procurement reform

As Abraham Lincoln, once remarked, “if you wish to win a man over to your ideas, you must first make him your friend.” Nowhere is that more true than federal procurement.

US Capital 2Established contracting players have the advantage of many friends in D.C., thanks to their years of selling to government and their well-funded budgets. They have the opportunity to meet with agencies early and often throughout the procurement process, allowing them to speak up about requirements long before requests for information and proposals are released.

At the same time, a lack of access to agency decision-makers further discourages small businesses from pursuing federal work.

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Say goodbye to 100 page RFPs – 18F found another way

The sprint is over and companies that competed for a slot on 18F’s Agile BPA are lauding what they hope will become a new standard for federal procurement.

18F at GSAIn looking for companies to provide agile development services, the innovative arm of the General Services Administration opted for a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to the solicitation process. Rather than ask companies for reams of paper promising agile capabilities, 18F set up a proving ground: a two-week test sprint where the only real measurement of success was a working product.

“I certainly hope that this is a new way to do [procurements] going forward,” said Joe Truppo, senior manager at Octo Consulting. “Instead of us delivering 40 pages saying what we could do, we actually got a chance to show them what we could do.”

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Current and former DoD execs rally against NDAA amendment decentralizing DoD acquisition power

Current and former Defense Department officials have taken issue with a provision in the Senate’s defense authorization proposal that shifts power away from Pentagon’s acquisition chief.

US DoD logoThe Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2016 includes a provision that would shift decision-making power on acquisition matters from the assistant defense secretary for acquisition and logistics – currently Frank Kendall – to the service chiefs.

At a July 17 Center for Strategic and International Studies panel discussion, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Alan Estevez said the shift of power will cut off the assistant defense secretary at the knees.

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