OMB wants acquisition innovation

Administration officials say agencies need to streamline acquisition for the sake of their financial health.

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Top procurement officials are sending a new message to agencies: Acquisition innovation isn't just "nice to have." It's an essential part of agency operations, especially as the pace of technological change accelerates.

The stars are aligning for agencies to think about how to improve their acquisition preparations and plans, according to Mathew Blum, associate administrator for federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.

The IT modernization fund authorized by the Modernizing Government Technology Act, new ways to buy commercial products, a winnowing of the federal regulatory thicket along with the tightening of civilian agency budgets are all pushing federal acquisition innovation forward as never before, Blum said in a presentation at ACT-IAC's Feb. 21 event billed as a "reverse industry day."

Despite a legislative and policy push to stimulate innovation, Blum said, there is still a considerable cultural undercurrent that blunts progress.

"It's new ideas versus old practices," he said. "I bet a significant number or a majority of you don't feel confident to go back and try out ideas you hear here."

Pilot programs and other innovative efforts, he said, have resources to draw on, such as the Acquisition Innovation Advocate Council, the General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Services and the U.S. Digital Service teams.

In drafting GSA's Alliant 2 governmentwide IT acquisition contract, Casey Kelley, director of the customer engagement at GSA's Information Technology Category in the Federal Acquisition Service, said his group tried to innovate by getting as much industry input as possible before its release. He worked to saturate the environment around the contract in hopes of drawing the best contractors.

"You had to be living in a cave not to be aware of what was going on with that contract if you were interested in it," he said in his presentation at the ACT-IAC event. GSA began its effort to develop the Alliant 2 in 2013.

The IRS also has launched a program to get the word out on its developing acquisitions, including IT acquisitions. Mitchell Winans, a special assistant at the agency, said IRS is now trying to more broadly announce its RFI plans. Beyond FedBizOpps, he said, the IRS is exploring other avenues, such as LinkedIn, GSA contract vehicles and press interviews, to publicize its procurements and even its longer-term acquisition strategies.

"We're trying to be more proactive and have the information [potential contractors] need," he said.

DHS, said Polly Hall, strategy and planning lead at the agency's Procurement Innovation Lab, told the conference her group is working to build a culture of acquisition innovation across the entire agency. DHS also is trying to speed award time. The PIL recently helped DHS transition from a shared services-based financial systems modernization through its EAGLE II multiple award IT contract.

Hall said the PIL used the "show me, don't tell me" approach to having potential contractors actually demonstrate what they could do, instead of filing a paper explaining what they could do.

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