Social contract

The world of federal procurement and acquisition policy is about as insular as it gets in nonclassified government. Few people understand it, and fewer still know how to navigate the maze of rules and procedures that govern contracts the government writes to buy things such as weapons systems, lunar landing modules, enterprise software, computers, desks, chairs, telephones and legal pads. (Paper clips, too.)

But if your closed system has difficult and even intractable problems, which the Byzantine procurement process clearly seems to have, it doesn’t really help much to limit the conversation to the people inside your current solar system. Everyone’s stuck in the same orbit. So maybe you should call in an outside consultant? Until a few months ago, that was pretty much your only option.

But as everyone surely knows by now, a new combination of technology tools and social-networking skills, collectively known as Web 2.0, has emerged on the scene to help complete strangers solve problems together. The tools range from open-source software and collaborative wikis to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and they have changed the way many people talk to and work with one another.

More importantly, they help you widen the circle of potential experts, which means you can  build on one another’s expertise. Who knows? Maybe there’s someone out there buried deep in the bowels of an obscure federal agency who’s already found a better way to buy a mousetrap. And maybe he or she has a Facebook account.

That’s the premise of a burgeoning round of discussions taking place today in the acquisition community, which has begun adapting those same social-media tools to their own disruptive uses. They call it Acquisition 2.0.

Staff writer Matthew Weigelt, who has been covering the acquisition beat for Federal Computer Week since 2006, writes in this week’s cover story that senior officials in the White House, OMB and the General Services Administration are actively seeking help from across the federal government — even the general public — in an effort to break through the acquisition chokehold of inefficiency, lack of accountability and uncontrolled costs.

Hundreds of eager acquisition geeks are already participating, and some fresh new ideas are already bubbling up. It might not be long before they get the rest of us to join their expanding and expansive club.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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