GSA’s 18F takes on micropurchasing experiment

The General Services Administration’s tech consultancy team is experimenting with a new way for federal agencies to buy code. 

18F at GSAThe team is building an online system that could help federal agencies make “micro-purchases” — transactions for less than $3,500 made directly with the vendor — for open source software code.

Since its inception in 2014, 18F has been uploading the code for its products on GitHub, a public, online repository, so citizens can examine the code and occasionally contribute to it.

“But we want to show that opening our source code improves our ability to contract for digital services,” 18F staffer V. David Zvenyach wrote in a blog post. “We also want to see whether this is a sustainable way to engage small businesses and non-traditional contractors in the government space.”

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The challenging search for good procurement practices

A year ago, headlines were all about IT procurement reform, with Congress threatening to impose new rules on government that promised to increase effectiveness and improve results.

This quickly gave way to more sage advice arguing that what we needed was not procurement reform, but instead, continual and incremental improvements in procurement processes and adoption of best procurement practices.

GWACToday, I see little evidence that the government procurement market is converging on the best IT procurement practices. Instead, agencies appear to be adopting diverse strategies focusing on finding expedient, protest-resistant procurement solutions rather than focusing on enhancing mission outcomes.

Lucky enough to have the right attributesMany of these practices are gaining market share, but may fall short of achieving long-term mission objectives and have unintended outcomes that ultimately may prove disadvantageous to both government and industry.

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New Pentagon equipment is no longer pushing the envelope

Acquisition chief Frank Kendall says the cost of the Defense Department’s major projects are falling, but the arms being purchased are less technologically advanced.

Performance of the Defense Acquisition System - 2015 ReportFor the past six years, a newly cost-conscious Pentagon has aimed to buy arms that are less complex and use more existing or commercial technology. And it’s worked. The cost of major projects is dropping, says Frank Kendall, the defense undersecretary for acquisition. And he has the data to prove it.

But the bad news, Kendall says in a new 210-page report, is that Pentagon arms buyers have become so risk-adverse that America’s cutting-edge weapons aren’t quite so cutting-edge. And that’s allowing China and Russia to catch up.

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Read Kendall’s message on the Defense Acquisition University’s website at:

Read Kendall’s full report at:

Some acquisition ideas for the next president

Although it’s still a year away, the next presidential election will be upon us before we know it. 

White HouseAnd with so many issues needing attention, a set of recommendations on a federal technology agenda would help the next administration hit the ground running.

It’s important to see through the haze of heated rhetoric and focus on three questions:

1. What current initiatives should be continued? Too often, ongoing efforts from the prior administration languish or are discarded because they weren’t invented here.

2. What current initiatives or policies should be terminated? The road of federal IT initiatives is paved with many well-intentioned efforts at portfolio management that never actually retire legacy systems. Similarly, practices that create drag on the rapid acquisition of effective IT solutions must be discarded.

3. What new initiatives and actions should be embraced? We need to bring speed, innovation and commercial best practices to government. We can no longer afford to function in an environment in which the platforms, apps and managed services available in the commercial marketplace are not the norm in the federal government.

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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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