Procurement

Idea: Procurementeers, an open, collaborative government procurement community

Procurementeers

It’s cliche to say that government procurement needs to be fixed, but much of the conversation around this topic happens randomly on social media, in a vacuum through exclusive or elusive groups, or through traditional organizations that operate in a closed, dated mindset with respect to broader inclusion or true innovation.

There are so many smart, passionate people sincerely dedicated to changing government procurement. What’s missing in this effort is a truly open, collaborative, specialized community focused on supporting one another, facilitating ideas for improvement and delivering a knowledge base of best practices.

What’s needed is stronger leadership within the disparate government procurement community to lead on these fronts. For government officials, it can’t be about how much you know about the nuances of procurement and the endless blockers that create the innovation stopgap. For vendors, it can’t be about how your product will solve all the problems. It must be about all aspects of the ecosystem coming together to have the conversation, cultivate the community and holistically transform government procurement at scale.

To help facilitate this, here’s my idea: Procurementeers, a volunteer-based, open community of civic innovators working to modernize government procurement. I’ve set up a simple website, Slack community, handbook, Twitter account, GitHub organization and starter ideas, such as a Procurement Camp and working group, for moving this project forward.

I’m not a government procurement enthusiast, but I do see a critical need for something like Procurementeers to move this much-needed transformation forward. I do not need or want to own or manage this community. I simply want to propose a way to facilitate this, so we can change procurement at scale.

My fear is that if the government procurement community — especially those who champion themselves as leaders — don’t address this topic in an open, inclusive, collaborative way, we’ll continue to experience the fixed, reductionist and incremental mindset and momentum we’ve seen to date.

Procurementeers is my attempt to inspire those who are passionate about changing government procurement with the hopes that this helps jump start your efforts.

If you’re excited about leading government procurement transformation and would like to take over Procurementeers and run with it, email me at luke@govfresh.com.

Newsom’s first-day executive order prioritizes government technology procurement reform

Photo: Governor’s Office of Emergency Services
Photo: Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

California Governor Gavin Newsom wasted no time on his first day in office addressing what many see as the most critical — albeit bureaucratic — issue impacting the state’s government technology challenges: procurement.

“Technology and innovation can be deployed to address some of the State’s most pressing challenges, but only if we modernize our procurement processes to ensure that solutions fit the problems they are designed to solve,” states Executive Order N-04-19.

Newsom’s order calls for a move away from the traditional specifications-based approach to technology procurement, instead advocating for one where the state outlines a problem area and looks to others — “state experts, vendors, entrepreneurs, and scientists from a range of industries” — to offer innovative technology solutions that “yield more comprehensive and effective results.”

As part of this initiative, Newsom is proposing a new “Request for Innovative Ideas,” or RFI2, where the state will “ask innovators to design solutions to our most complex problems, instead of the tradition RFP process, wherein the State predefines the solution and vendors bid for a narrowly defined contract.”

“This new approach to procurement capitalizes upon California’s innovation economy by asking better questions, leading to new and better outcomes for our State’s residents,” states the order.

Read Executive Order N-04-19

‘War Dogs’ and government procurement

I’m late to the party on this, but finally watched War Dogs, and it’s the great American federal government procurement movie.

Based on a 2011 Rolling Stone article, “The War and the Dudes,” “War Dogs” chronicles how two twentysomethings, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, via their company, AEY Inc., venture into government contracting, supplying weapons and ammunition to the U.S. Department of Defense.

From “The War and the Dudes”:

At first, Packouz struggled to land his own deals. Bidding on contracts on fbo.gov was an art; closing a deal was a science. At one point, he spent weeks obsessing over an $8 million contract to supply SUVs to the State Department in Pakistan, only to lose the bid. But he finally won a contract to supply 50,000 gallons of propane to an Air Force base in Wyoming, netting a profit of $8,000. “There were a lot of suppliers who didn’t know how to work FedBizOpps as well as we did,” he says. “You had to read the solicitations religiously.”

“War Dogs” exposes many of the nuances of federal contracting, from FedBizOps to bidding, small business set asides, contractor ratings to the unwritten rules that call vendor integrity into question.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in a comedic take on the business of war, there’s enough references to government contracting to make it fully entertaining for those of you who are proud procurement enthusiasts.

Trailer:

The future of government technology procurement

SideEffect.ioThe General Services Administration and 18F recently held an open request for quotation related to a new blanket purchase agreement for a federal marketplace for agile delivery services. The transparency throughout the entire process was refreshing and provides a window into the future of procurement as well as what FedBizOpps could and should be.

The RFQ asked companies to provide a working prototype with code submitted in a public GitHub repository that could be viewed, watched, forked or downloaded at any time. Timestamps built into GitHub’s commit timeline publicly exposed when a company began working and when and whether it “submitted” its final version within the allocated timeframe.

The objective of the BPA, according to 18F, was “to shift the software procurement paradigm” from a waterfall-based development model with a long, tedious approach to acquisition that typically favors large, established inside-Beltway vendors to one that encourages small business participation, and that required all companies to work in the open, using GitHub to expose not just the code, but how the teams worked together and documented their efforts.

CivicActions (full disclosure: I work for them) participated in the process, and I played a role in developing parts of the front-end and productizing the end result, which was SideEffect.io, an adverse affect comparison tool that leveraged open data from the Food and Drug Administration’s OpenFDA initiative (GitHub repo here).

Having played a minor role on the team and having an odd appreciation for how government IT leaders are working to modernize technology procurement, the process was fascinating to watch both from how GSA and 18F pushed this out and managed, but also an inside perspective on how one company responded and worked together (FCW’s Zach Noble has a great write-up on how the CivicActions team worked, the tools used and its general philosophy going into it).

My general takeaway is that this is the future of the request for information/quote/proposal process. In the future, much like what I prototyped at OpenFBO, for each procurement request, there will be repo-like tools that fully expose public input and questions, allow internal and external stakeholders to easily “watch” for updates, attach bids or quotes with an opportunity for feedback, all of which would eventually turn into the repo for developing the end product.

As GSA and 18F, and hopefully other federal, state and local agencies, continue to refine this process, whether it’s via GitHub or a Git-like platform, you can be sure this is the future of how government will procure custom-built software and services.

Sofman joins SmartProcure as government sector EVP

Former Code for America Chief Program Officer Bob Sofman has joined procurement startup SmartProcure as government sector executive vice president.

SmartProcure offers participating governments a database of acquisition information to compare products and services purchased from other government agencies across the United States. Vendors can use the service to analyze competitor pricing and government purchasing trends.

“Governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year purchasing goods and services using a cumbersome and often inefficient procurement process,” Sofman said in a prepared statement announcing his new role. “Government agencies often purchase similar products and it’s not uncommon for the same product to vary dramatically in price. Knowing who these vendors are and the prices they charge ensures governments are making the best decisions with taxpayer dollars.”

Sofman was Code for America interim executive director while founder and executive director Jen Pahlka served a year as U.S. deputy chief technology officer.

SmartProcure, founded in 2011, was named a GovFresh 2013 civic startup of the year.

Thoughts on the new acquisition.gov

Source: acquisition.gov

Source: acquisition.gov

The General Services Administration announced a new re-design of acquisition.gov, the official website for the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

Here are my thoughts and observations:

Redirects don’t work. One of the first issues you typically address on a site redesign is the 301 redirect meaning that if a link name has changed, you redirect it to a corresponding new page. That way when someone searches or clicks on an old link, they are redirected to a new page.

As you can see, this is not the case for the old FAR URL, acquisition.gov/far:

Source: acquisition.gov

Source: acquisition.gov

It’s open source. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the original was developed in Microsoft’s Active Server Pages. The new site is built on the open source content management system Drupal which, of course, is a positive direction towards federal government open source adoption.

Audience. There’s probably not much you can do to avoid the alphabet soup of federal government acronyms, but the site doesn’t make it helpful for those new to federal procurement. There are a few helpful videos, but it doesn’t do anything to make the FAR appear more accessible. It’s very link-heavy without access to entry-level information or smooth transition to extended resources.

Not mobile-friendly. I can’t tell if the code is buggy or if it’s just not responsive at all, but it doesn’t adapt at all on my phone or browser. There appears to be a horizontal scroll bug, so I assume that is the problem.

Search could be better. To me, this is the most important aspect of a FAR website, and this is where it falls short. While there is now a downloadable HTML version (which, in its current form, isn’t very useful), there still isn’t a seamless way to search and view text in the FAR. Even the font-resizing tool doesn’t resize the actual FAR text.

Frames. Perhaps the primary reason for the limited user-friendliness is that the FAR pages are simply a frame-based version of the old FAR website, which used to be at acquisition.gov/far. I’m frankly surprised that this was an acceptable solution to making acquisition.gov a better tool.

I wouldn’t call this a re-design of acquisitions.gov, but more of a new template and technology. The core mission of the site, making the actual FAR more accessible, still has a long way to go.

USAspending.gov gets an official GitHub repo, feedback loop

USAspending.gov

Source: USAspending.gov

For those unsatisfied with the recent USAspending.gov re-launch and would like to submit public feedback, there’s now an official GitHub repo for that.

While code source of the current USAspending.gov website isn’t available at the repo, it’s a great first step in that the federal government has created a formal channel for aggregating input from external stakeholders.

View the current issues and comments or add your own.

(HT @kaitlinbdevine)

GovTribe brings a better user experience to federal government acquisition

Source: govtribe.com

Source: govtribe.com

In an industry that constantly talks about transforming government procurement, one startup is been quietly making a go of it, and it just keeps getting better.

Few businesses are legitimately tackling the Herculean task of federal government acquisition but with GovTribe, and its new web release late last year, we’re starting to see what FedBizOps and related commercial offerings could and should be doing.

GovTribe first released as a mobile app, however, in November it launched a web version that offers, relative to related services, a lower cost option with a much simpler user interface and forward-thinking approach to web-based services for all elements of the acquisition spectrum.

One of the most important aspects of GovTribe’s web offering is that this is the first time this type of information has been publicly-accessible and usable in a format like this, whereas other commercial offering are hidden behind a paywall or, in the case of FedBizOps, lack a useful interface for those unfamiliar with the nuances of federal procurement.

According to GovTribe co-founder and CEO Nate Nash, since the launch, the site has averaged 7,000 unique visitors and 30,000 page views per month. The site has delivered 800,000 past and present opportunities, 60,000 contracting officer profiles, 200,000 vendor profiles, agencies, offices and NAICs codes. Other features include custom alerting, pipeline tracking and market profiles.

There are freemium (track up to three keywords) and paid ($16/month) versions, as well as subscription access to its application programming interface.

GovTribe also offers custom reports, a “service providing deep dive analysis into specific market segments.”

Here’s an excerpt of a recent email exchange Nash and I:

“When people in this town think of government contracting, they typically think of the big brand name players. Initially, that’s what we thought our market should be. However, there is a massive segment of small and medium-sized businesses working on government contracts all over the country.”

“Sure, SAIC does a ton of business. But there are also a bunch of companies serving the 20M annual peanut butter market. Those folks are totally underserved when it comes to market intel. And those folks are now our customers.

“The influx of calls we get from people looking to get into the government contracting game has been eye opening. They find us because we are one of the few services that puts all of the opportunities on our website, for free.

“It has been really cool to speak with people who have small firms that do awesome work, and want to do it for the government. We think that is exactly what the government contracting market needs. Better access equals a more competitive marketplace and ultimately leads to better government services.”

As new, low-cost, enterprise web-based offerings continue to expand across all sectors, GovTribe now provides one to an industry that desperately needs it, on a fundamental component critical to making government work better.

Making it easier to access federal business opportunities is just one aspect to building a better procurement process, but it’s the start, and startup, that we need.

OpenFBO: re-imagining the next generation FedBizOpps

OpenFBO

Say hello to OpenFBO.

Inspired by a recent General Services Administration request for information to create a “new and improved” FedBizOpps, OpenFBO is a community experiment to re-imagine the next generation FBO.

After reading GSA’s RFI, and working with NuCivic and CivicActions on their own submissions, I began thinking about what I would do if I was in charge of FedBizOpps, leaning on what’s been done with FBOpen, OpenRFPs and particularly former Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd’s leadership and experiments with GitHub-based procurement.

I started thinking, what if the RFI, request for proposal, the development of FedBizOpps and everything around it was more open and collaborative. What if all RFIs and RFPs were public repos where anyone could engage more in the procurement process? What are the other possibilities for making the process fair for small businesses? How can it be a more enjoyable experience for the federal workers who need to use it on a daily basis.

Inspired by Mark’s idea of GitHub-based procurement, I created a simple brand (“OpenFBO”) and website (openfbo.org) using GitHub pages, and am leveraging GitHub’s issues feature for idea submissions. There are currently two repos (one for the website and one for the first RFI).

As with any project like this, it’s also a way for me to learn more about the federal procurement process in the context of a community project. I have a lot to learn and hope OpenFBO is the mechanism for doing so. I imagine this will also open my eyes to community engagement via GitHub, which I’m really looking forward to.

To get involved with OpenFBO, connect on GitHub, Twitter, LinkedIn or subscribe to the newsletter.

So, to start things off, we’re issuing our first RFI:

How would you make FedBizOpps better?

GSA takes a big step towards baking agile into federal procurement

The U.S. General Services Administration is working to make it easier for agencies to procure agile development services via a government-wide blanket purchase agreement, which could be finalized as early as the end of this year.

GSA initiated the effort with a request for information and an Agile Delivery Services Industry Day tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, January 27, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. eastern time.

According to GSA, the industry day aims to discuss “establishing a new, governmentwide Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA), which will feature vendors specializing in agile delivery services (e.g.; user-centered design, agile software development, and DevOps).”

To get a better understanding each vendors qualifications and understanding for the agile process, the RFI asks each to explain in 500 words how they would improve the federal government business portal, FedBizOpps. Responses are due by January 23.

From the RFI:

To ascertain your agile delivery capabilities, the government is requesting that you describe how you would approach creating a new and improved version of an existing government digital service called FedBizOpps (FBO).

FBO, which you can view at http://www.fbo.gov, is used by government buyers to share information on federal business opportunities with the public. The system is intended to serve as the central portal for federal agencies to solicit products and services from commercial vendors in support of their missions. Using FBO, vendors can search, monitor, and retrieve opportunities solicited by the entire federal contracting community.

Based on this brief description of FBO, how would you go about designing, developing, testing, deploying and/or operating a new and improved system that produces such outcomes as user needs being met, risk of overall project failure (in terms of cost, schedule, quality) being mitigated, the architecture being adaptive to change, and taxpayer dollars being spent efficiently and effectively? Please be sure to include a listing of all the labor categories your company would use in this effort.

GSA will start an alpha test phase within “2-3 months” that will include vendors currently on Schedule 70 and apply only to GSA procurement, particularly to help “18F’s burgeoning delivery services team.” Afterwards, within 6-8 months, a beta phase will work to establish a government-wide BPA for procuring agile services.

“To keep pace, software acquisitions need to move at the speed of agile development cycles,” write 18F’s Chris Cairns and Greg Godbout in a blog post announcing the effort. “Ideally, this means less than 4 weeks from solicitation to contract kickoff, and from there no more than 3 months to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP).”

Bonus: RFI tips

Here are a few ideas you can use for your RFI submission:

  • Start with “API first.” FedBizOps desperately needs a more useful way to access the information available, especially newly-posted RFIs and requests for proposals.
  • Push all the front-end code to GitHub, where you’ll publicly address interface issues.
  • For design inspiration, start with FBOpen. Emphasize you’ll make searching easier and less convoluted. If you’re not familiar with this project or its predecessor RFP-EZ, start here.
  • Put all support/FAQs into Zendesk, much like the Federal Communications Commission has done with its new consumer complaint website.