Procurement contests pooh-poohed by an unlikely source

Steve Kelman is disappointed in an attack on federal procurement competitions from a source he never would have expected.

In a contracting world in which the climate for innovation has been terrible for a decade, one bright spot on a dim horizon has been a surge in the use of contests as a procurement tool.

The basic idea of a procurement contest — sometimes called a prize or challenge — is to set out a performance requirement for a capability that needs development work and offer a prize, usually money, for the first or best entity to produce a product or capability meeting the requirement.

Contests engender a lot of effort, and you pay only for results. Keep in mind the caveat: if it is a risky undertaking that may well fail, you need to be willing to pay more than you would have for a level-of-effort traditional procurement. The push for greater use of contests as a procurement technique has gotten the official blessing of the Office of Management and Budget, which has doubtless helped things along. Interest in contests has grown in the private sector as well, with an entire company, Innocentive.com, acting as a platform through which private firms can advertise contest opportunities. NASA and some other government agencies have been using Innocentive as well.
 
Well, I recently read something that threw cold water on the idea. Before I tell you the unlikely source of this icy blast, here is a sample:
 

Federal agencies…are increasingly tapping a parallel universe of what are known as "prizes and challenges" to bypass the [Federal Acquisition Regulation] and agency procurement processes and bring innovation to government.… [Agencies] have demonstrated some creative interpretations of existing statutory authorities to sponsor and award prizes for a wide range of requirements, in ways that push against the boundaries of the federal procurement system.… This approach is able to lead to rapid selections because it frees the agencies and the competitors from the complexities and costs of complying with the FAR rules, which are in place to protect taxpayers, even though the process employed is really a federal procurement. Applying innovative techniques to achieving federal missions should be supported.… But their use should be carefully monitored and tracked to ensure that agencies are also following core procurement procedures to properly obtain necessary goods and services.

So who said this? An inspector general somewhere? Notice that "creative" appears to have a negative connotation, and the speed of the process seems to be seen as a problem.

No, unfortunately the source of this quote is not a by-the-book IG or another kind of auditor. This passage comes from a column in the Washington Business Journal by Alan Chvotkin of the Professional Services Council, the main trade association representing high-end IT/consulting/professional services contractors.

I know and like Alan, and I also know he has always — at least since the 1980s — been somewhat conservative in procurement matters. But I really think this column was very unfortunate. The safest course for government contracting officials is to keep their heads down and not try anything new. The last thing contracting folks need to hear is naysaying about innovation from industry, which normally prides itself on encouraging the government to look for more sensible — may I say more business-like — ways to do business.

It is particularly unfortunate that the only example of a bad contest the column cites is a contest being sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department to develop an Internet application that will encourage vets to use something called Blue Button, which allows their service-related medical records to be downloaded by nonmilitary healthcare providers. Blue Button is an effort led by Peter Levin, VA's smart and innovative chief technology officer, who brings a long background in the high-tech private sector to public service, and the early impression of the Blue Button effort is that it is a success story, developed under the leadership of exactly the kind of person often difficult to attract to federal service at a senior level.

The Professional Services Council should continue to encourage interesting procurement innovation in government, not dump on it.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.