What needs to be fixed in the FAR?

Steve Kelman spotlights two areas where real obstacles to effective IT contracting may exist -- and suggests solutions for each.

steve kelman

Steve Kelman argues that agencies often overpay for web design that could be handled better, and more cheaply, by smaller firms.

A recent FCW story by Mark Rockwell, "Teaching feds not to fear the FAR," has gotten a fair amount of attention in the Twittersphere and is definitely worth reading. It discusses a number of efforts underway -- including a “Buyer’s Club” led by Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak and a TechFAR document being prepared at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under the leadership of the indefatigable Mathew Blum -- to lower the fear factor in the government IT community around the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and to emphasize flexibilities available in the regs.

These are very good efforts that deserve support. Many new and exciting procurement techniques, such as contests and crowdsourcing, are -- as those quoted in Rockwell’s article note -- already permitted by the FAR. The government can access some crowdsourcing websites for less than $3,000, which means services there can be purchased without further ado using a government credit card.

We do, however, need to ask ourselves whether there are important areas of IT contracting where the FAR actually is a genuine impediment, as opposed merely to a vague source of fear.

I have two nominations, involving very different kinds of IT procurement – purchasing web design and stand-alone web app services from new, innovative firms, and then contracting for agile development. I’d like to get a dialogue going about whether these are genuine obstacles, and whether there are others that should be added to the list.

My guess is that agencies frequently dramatically overpay for mediocre web design and web app development work done by large, traditional government IT contractors. There are oodles of small startup firms out there that should be doing this work. In terms of the actual procurement process, simplified procedures for commercial-item buys up to $1.5 million should make the process relatively simple. The problem, I suspect, lies in the various “socioeconomic” contract clauses, many of which even apply to work under $100,000, that frighten small companies.

If I’m right, this is costing government and taxpayers a lot of money for benefits that are minute at best. Do these garage startups really need affirmative action plans that go beyond those applying to companies in general?

Here, though, statutory change is needed. I would propose eliminating all such clauses (as we currently do with purchases under $3,000) for contracts or task orders with small businesses that have had five or fewer government contracts.

The problem with agile is different, and centers on the bureaucratic nature of the government’s past performance system. Agile development, with its very general requirements for individual short spurts, works well in the commercial world because private-sector customers can easily and quickly stop giving work to vendors who screw up on one too many iterative "sprints." Federal agencies are not allowed to be nearly so nimble in changing or curtailing a contract.

Here my suggestion is that agencies work to obtain, either for an individual contract or for all agency software contracts using agile for a set period of time, a deviation from FAR past performance documentation requirements. We could then test what happens when the customer can stop giving orders to a poorly performing vendor with only a moderate explanation of why. Even better, Congress could pass a test program authorizing such experiments for all agile contracts for three to five years.

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.