What’s next for agile acquisition?

room of computers 

To build on the IT modernization momentum and reverse some recent backsliding, innovation groups from within the White House look to take a lead role on improving agile acquisition efforts.

In March, Dave Powner, who leads IT oversight at the Government Accountability Office, testified before Congress that government had "taken some steps backwards” on IT management and modernization efforts with the recent change in administrations.

To reverse this regression, the U.S. Digital Services is working directly with agencies to improve their agile procurement by scaling up the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Training program.

"We recognized there's plenty of training on how to use the [Federal Acquisition Regulation]," USDS acquisition strategist Brent Maravilla said. "What was missing within the FAR was training for digital services."

Maravilla, who spoke at a May 2 agile acquisition event hosted by ACT-IAC's Small Business Alliance, said that Congress and industry both want to see an expansion of the Digital Services’ acquisition training program, which has trained 55 contracting officers to date. USDS has plans to meet training organizations from the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, among others.

For the training program, Maravilla said that USDS will "hold control over what's being taught," but added that "if some other training vendor" wants to provide input or add its own lessons, then USDS would be open.

In terms of where support from the White House stands, Maravilla said that USDS is "in happy relations" with the Office of American Innovation, the new White House office tasked with government reinvention and headed by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Maravilla also floated the idea of eventually adopting open procurement practices -- "think open source code for procurement" -- where program offices and vendors could both see the drafting of requirements and make suggestions. However, he added that the United Kingdom "is several years ahead of us on this," and "we don't quite have the bandwidth" to do open procurement at this time.

18F Acting Executive Director Dave Zvenyach, who also was at the ACT-IAC event, told FCW that agencies are more focused than ever on collaboration with industry, and that while policy mandates from Congress can help steer acquisition practices, the FAR "provides them more than enough flexibility" to tackle agile acquisition.

Michael Skorny, a contracting officer at GSA's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, saidcollaboration with industry is critical because that's where "the more innovative and interesting ideas come from." The federal hiring process may need reforming to fully optimize digital services for citizens and bring passionate contracting officers and top-notch design experts to government, he added.

Skorny also said that he personally thinks that the Trump administration's stance on stripping federal regulations could help streamline the acquisition process, adding that continued modernization efforts to the GSA-run System of Award Management website can help keep pace "with the ever-changing landscape of federal regulations."

Note:  This article was updated on May 3 to clarify the event at which the above remarks were made.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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