“The way government does tech is outdated and risky” — Washington Post, Oct. 2013
“One of the biggest factors preventing successful government procurements today may be the rapid evolution of technology.” — Government Technology, March 4, 2014
Over the past several years, the federal government and industry community have been talking about the need for software acquisitions to keep pace with technology cycles — typically one to three years. In today’s dynamic environment, however, not even that is fast enough. The reality is that business priorities, user needs, and technologies evolve and emerge on a continual basis. To keep pace, software acquisitions need to move at the speed of agile development cycles. Ideally, this means less than four weeks from solicitation to contract kickoff, and from there no more than three months to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP).
To shift the software procurement paradigm, we’re partnering with the General Service Administrations’s (GSA) Office of Integrated Technology Services to establish a government-wide blanket purchase agreement (BPA) featuring vendors specializing in agile delivery services (for example, user-centered design, agile software development, DevOps). To begin the process of engaging with industry, we recently posted a Request for Information (RFI) on FedBizOpps and GSA eBuy and will be holding an industry day event on February 3. To sign up for the event, please visit our event registration page. (The original event was rescheduled due to inclement weather.)
There are a number of elements that make this BPA unique.
A BPA is simply a product for fulfilling specific supply needs of buyers across the federal government. Many of today’s leading companies are using proven lean startup practices (for example, MVP) to improve the market success rates of their new product development initiatives. In a similar fashion, we plan to develop alpha and beta versions of the Agile Delivery Services BPA.
For the alpha, we’re creating a BPA under GSA IT Schedule 70 within a target timeframe of two to three months. The BPA will be competed among existing vendors on Schedule 70. Once in place, use of the BPA will be limited to GSA only, and in particular, 18F’s burgeoning delivery services team.
Based on what we learn from the alpha version (for example, what it takes to go from solicitation to contract kickoff within four weeks), we’ll work to create a beta version of the government-wide BPA (also under Schedule 70) within a target timeframe of six to eight months from the award date of the alpha BPA. Unlike the alpha version, the beta will include an outreach component for onboarding new companies wanting to compete for a spot on the BPA onto Schedule 70.
We believe that taking such a lean approach with alpha and beta versions will allow us to create a product that more effectively meets the needs of early customers (i.e., federal buyers) and can be scaled across government.
Show, don’t tell us
We’re going to ask vendors for a live or near-live demonstration of their capabilities (for example, a 24-hour product development challenge) as part of the evaluation methodology. Doing it this way will not only help yield high-quality vendors, but also reduce how much “bid & proposal” expense companies have to incur. Very little, if any, in the way of written responses will be required, as is typically the case.
Federal contracting is an institution in and of itself, and over the decades it has acquired its own unique language and way of working. To companies looking to enter or establish their presence in the federal marketplace, it appears mysterious and difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, this has deterred many great companies from trying to do business with the federal government. To encourage as many companies as possible from within and outside of the federal marketplace to compete for a BPA award, we’re partnering with IT Schedule 70’s vendor outreach program to educate these companies on how federal contracting works and to train them on completing the prerequisite process to become an IT Schedule 70 contract vendor.
Periodic on-ramping and off-ramping
Any good economist will tell you that competition is key to a healthy marketplace. Often, however, the federal government uses procurement practices that don’t take full advantage of the competitive dynamics that encourage market participants to perform at higher and higher levels. For example, a large, multi-year contract award to a single vendor creates a structure that potentially limits and delays the competitive cycles necessary to drive companies to perform at the highest levels possible, as well as filter-out those who don’t perform well vs. those who do.
To encourage healthy competition, we’re going to do two things: use simple and transparent contractor performance metrics and encourage federal buyers to structure their acquisitions to use many small, short-duration contracts (referred to as modular contracting). By doing so, we’ll quickly gain visibility into who is and who isn’t delivering value to the government. Those who are will earn greater opportunities to win more work. Those who aren’t will be periodically off-ramped and competitively replaced with new marketplace entrants.
Small business friendly
Small businesses are the drivers of economic growth in the U.S. Agile methodologies encourage work to be done in small, rapid, independent increments. When combined with modular approaches to contracting, this opens up a whole new world of contract opportunities for small businesses. For example, rather than compete work as one big, long contract (for example, $50 million over five years) that typically only large businesses can execute on, break it into many small, short-duration contracts (for example, ten $5 million contracts of three to six months in duration). This has the effect of leveling the competitive playing field for not just small companies, but businesses of all sizes. Federal buyers will be strongly encouraged to structure their acquisitions this way. For those who need help, the services of 18F Consulting will be made available to them.
If you have any questions about the upcoming Agile Delivery Services Multiple Award BPA and industry day event, please refer to the point of contact for this program in the RFI.