Micro-purchase Marketplace

Background

An marketplace for open source tasks

Often, government technology projects are built by large companies using closed source code, which means the backend is often proprietary and not available to the public. 18F wanted to find a way to bring more small vendors into government technology work while promoting the use of open source code.

Many small vendors choose not to enter the government contracting market because of the administrative burden of securing many government contracts. But there happens to be an existing option that makes very small purchases much easier.

Approach

Leveraging the micro-purchase authority

18F, like other government organizations, is able to buy items under $3,500 in value with relatively few rules and restrictions by using what’s called a “micro-purchase authority.” Micro-purchases are often used for things like office chairs or supplies, but 18F decided to use it to buy bits of open source code from private vendors.

To do this, the team created the Micro-Purchase Marketplace platform, a reverse auction house where federal agencies can work with 18F to post clearly-defined coding tasks and registered vendors can bid on how much they would be willing to be paid to complete the task. The platform allows agencies with existing product teams to quickly add new features to their existing open source projects at a low cost and gives small businesses a way to enter into the government marketplace.

The platform has seen consistent interest from vendors, showing that there’s a market for these small types of software purchases. Other governments have also shown interest, with Singapore creating a customized version of the platform and British Columbia creating a similar experiment. We’re currently working on growing the marketplace while making it easier for other government entities to re-use the platform to provide opportunities to the same vendor pool. We are also experimenting with tasks over the micro-purchase limit.

Have a project in mind?

Want to see if 18F can help your agency? We’d love to talk more, answer your questions, or learn more about what you’re working on.