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, 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.

How and why Los Angeles deployed open source and agile

Last week at DrupalCon, representatives from the city of Los Angeles, CivicActions and Acquia shared their development and project management process to begin migrating and consolidating websites across 40 agencies to a single instance using Acquia Cloud Site Factory.

The teams shared how they moved to the open source content management system Drupal, created a responsive web design theme, developed key features and integrated other services such as video and data.

The first sites included in the consolidation plan are and

The presentation also includes a retrospective on goals achieved, areas of improvement and lessons learned. The city’s LA team adopted agile development practices and, based on the success of the project, has been asked to train other agencies.

Project management and development tools used include SMACSS, Slack, Basecamp, GitHub, Google Hangouts and Jira.


New video roundtable series: ‘Transforming Government IT’

Photo: U.S. Navy / Gary Nichols

Photo: U.S. Navy / Gary Nichols

A new roundtable series focused on “Transforming Government IT” will bring together leaders in both the public and private sectors from Washington, D.C., to Silicon Valley, to discuss how the federal government can reinvent its approach to technology.

The first roundtable, “Loving Both Innovation and Security,” will be held this Tuesday, April 28, starting at 10:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET). The focus will be on how cybersecurity can be used to accelerate innovation in the federal government workforce and keep pace with the private sector.

Future discussions include “Security in an Open World of Free Software,” “Continuous Monitoring to Trust the Cloud” and “A Lean Plan for Security & Compliance.”

The series is a collaboration between Agile Government Leadership, CivicActions and Reinventors Network. Similar series from Reinventors Network have tackled nuclear security, universities and Hollywood.

Register here for the first event.

AGL launches Agile Government Handbook

Agile Government Handbook

I’m fortunate to engage with many great people on a number of rewarding projects, but the work I’ve been doing on Agile Government Leadership has been particularly fulfilling, both personally and professionally, because it addresses a fundamental approach to making government IT more efficient and successful.

When I first started collaborating with CivicActions a year ago, researching key components of successful government IT implementations, we delved deeper into Agile and how government was deploying, or trying to figure out how to deploy it, within the confines of the bureaucracy.

One of the recurring issues I heard, from both government employees and contractors, was that there needed to be a basic understanding of what Agile was in the context of government. There is an “Agile divide” between those who fully grok and are practicing it, and those who hear and process it only as a buzzword or passing trend or something unrelated to functions outside of technology project management.

So, taking the research I did with CivicActions, and working with the AGL steering committee, we created the Agile Government Handbook, to help bridge that Agile divide.

From AGL Steering committee member Elizabeth Raley announcing the handbook:

The handbook provides an overview of the agile development methodology, benefit, roles, key terms, checklists and resources that begin to help demystify Agile in the context of government.

We are very excited about this resource and, in true Agile fashion, will continue to iterate and build on it with the support and involvement of the community.

I’m extremely proud of getting this first aspect of the AGL work out the door and look forward to sharing other AGL projects that build on this as the year progresses.

You can find the handbook at, download and re-purpose from the GitHub repo or share your suggestions on how we can make this better.

To learn more about Agile government and AGL, join the AGL LinkedIn group, follow on Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter.

Also, if you’re interested in getting more involved, please feel free to contact me directly at

How you can help build a more agile government

Agile for Gov


Earlier this year, I began doing research work with CivicActions on agile development in government — who was doing it, how and what the needs were to successfully get it deployed.

After the launch mishaps, calls for agile practices as the panacea to all of government IT woes reached a high. While agile as the ultimate solution oversimplifies the issue, we’ve evolved as a profession (both software development and public service) that moving towards an iterative approach to operations is the way of the future.

My own formal introduction with agile began with my work with CivicActions, so the research coincided with an introductory immersion into how government is using it. Having been involved with startups for the past 15 years, iterative development is the norm, however, the layer of project management processes has forced me to be a better professional overall.

What I’ve found through many discussions and interviews is that you can’t just snap your fingers and execute agile within the framework of government bureaucracy. There are a number of issues — from procurement to project management training to executive-level commitment to organizational-wide culture change — that hinder its adoption. For IT, launching a new website or app is this easy part. Changing IT operational processes and culture is often overlooked or avoided, especially for a short-term executive, because they reach into the granular organizational challenges most people don’t want to bother with.

After talking with a number of agile government and private sector practitioners, it was clear there was enthusiasm around how it could be applied to fundamentally change the way government works. Beyond just execution from professional project management professionals, everyone I spoke with talked about how deploying agile gives them a stronger sense of public service.

What came from these discussions is the desire to have a stronger community of practitioners and those interested in deploying it to better support one another.

To meet that need, a group of federal, state, local government and private sector professionals have formed Agile Government Leadership, a “community-powered network of agile government professionals.”

Its mission:

By bringing applied agile practices to government, we want to redefine the culture of local, state and federal public sector service delivery across all aspects of government. We will work with agile professionals and organizations to support their work in getting agile infused into government processes. We will foster a spirit of openness and mentor those new to agile so that they have the necessary practical advice, resources, tools and community support for successful deployment. Through Agile Government Leadership, we will create a responsive, engaged government that more efficiently and effectively serves its citizens.

The group has done a ton of behind-the-scenes work and has go-forward plans in place, but also wants your feedback.

To get involved with Agile Government Leadership, join the LinkedIn, Facebook and Google groups, follow on Twitter and visit the website at

Reinventing government procurement

Reinventors is hosting a live, online government procurement roundtable with key nonprofit, business and media leaders on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. PT.

The discussion is part of “Reinvent America: Our Technology Foundation Series” led by Reinventors founder Peter Leyden.


”How can we make the way government buys technology compatible with the way good technology is now built – yet ensure the process is fair and people are accountable?”


Sign up and watch here.

More about the Reinvent America series: