Innovation, the devil and the details

government industry dialog

The latest wave of federal IT procurement programs focusing on innovation and interagency services has left industry representatives scratching their collective heads about how the new efforts will coexist with the private sector.

"We've had conversations with them on what their intentions are," said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of the Information Technology Industry Council's IT Alliance for Public Sector, during a briefing for reporters Aug. 6.

Hodgkins and Erica McCann, manager of federal procurement at ITAPS, said that although it is widely known that programs such as the General Services Administration's 18F and the Department of Health and Human Services' Buyers Club capitalize on innovative ideas from the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and other nontraditional sources, details remain sketchy.

"They're a big concern," McCann said.

Other industry groups have also raised questions about the programs.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, wrote in a June 16 article on that 18F's goal is to deliver services directly to agency customers on a sole-source basis.

Writing in response to Soloway, Lena Trudeau, associate commissioner of GSA's Office of Strategic Innovation, said that assessment couldn't be further from the truth. "To be clear, 18F is not competing with the private sector," she wrote.

Hodgkins said GSA hasn't provided enough detail to fully support Trudeau's assertion.

"They've shared some high-level objectives, but it's not clear how it will work with the public sector where companies are already competing to do some of the same things," Hodgkins said. "Those are the things that aren't as clear."

Hodgkins noted that GSA officials have said they intend to expand 18F to the agency's regional offices, widening the availability of new models for procuring, building and delivering digital services to federal users.

But Hodgkins and McCann said the Federal Acquisition Regulation already has the flexibility to allow contracting officers to take more innovative and creative approaches to acquisition. Hodgkins said 18F has the potential to take business away from contractors who could provide the same, or better, services.

"Website and software development can be acquired through the [GSA] Schedules and commercial companies," he added. "It's an unanswered question as to how [18F and the Buyers Club] position products."

Hodgkins suggested that the government determine why existing contracting vehicles, especially GSA Schedules, don't fit the needs of federal customers before setting off on new and untested paths.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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