Acquisition

HHS Buyers Club cuts first contract, looks for more

handshake

The Department of Health and Human Services' innovative procurement initiative awarded its first contract in late September and is looking to take on larger projects as soon as the fiscal 2015 appropriations process plays out.

On the last day of fiscal 2014, the HHS Buyers Club selected Akira Technologies to provide the department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation with help in implementing a platform and technical infrastructure for its websites, databases and software development environments; implementing a Web content management system and software package; redesigning public and intranet websites; and migrating those websites and databases into the content management system.

Mark Naggar, procurement adviser for Buyers Club, told FCW in an interview that the deal was the result of the initiative's non-traditional process that allowed the department to quickly narrow its choices by requiring potential vendors to work with looser objectives and provide working prototypes before a final selection was made. HHS and Buyers Club issued the RFP for the project in August.

There was no formal "statement of objective" of what the agency hoped to accomplish. Planning and Evaluation officials also used a "down select" process to narrow the field by choosing five vendors with the best ideas described in eight-page concept papers. Those semifinalists were given $10,000 to create prototypes for the agency to try out. The entire process, said Naggar, is currently being reviewed by HHS for comments and feedback from participants, with an eye to working out the kinks and expanding the process in the coming months.

"We're in the planning stages with a lot of groups," Naggar said. "There are some larger and some smaller" projects waiting in line, although “nothing the size of HealthCare.gov, but there are a lot of things in between."

One stumbling block for plans to expand the procurement initiative is the federal budget, said Naggar. The current continuing resolution, enacted in mid-September and set to expire in December, doesn't allow much in the way of planning for procurement.

In the meantime, he said, HHS and Buyers Club are looking to spread the gospel of acquisition innovation across government,  working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Federal Procurement Policy, along with the General Services Administration, in an informal online "Federal Buyers Club" email community. 

That listserve has about 120 members from federal agencies, said Naggar. The goal is to enlist participants from every agency, including  procurement and acquisition officials, but also members with legal and other areas of expertise that can influence the process, he said.

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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