Vendors: Don’t step back from FLASH

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Although the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to cancel its $1.5 billion Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland contract earlier this year caught many bidders off-guard, several companies recently praised the agency for trying something new.

In a July 26 letter to DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa, eight of the 11 vendors that had been in line to participate in FLASH thanked the agency for taking a risk in the risk-averse federal procurement arena.

DHS cancelled the procurement in May because of "significant errors and missteps in the procurement process," according to a letter from the DHS Office of the General Counsel to the Government Accountability Office, which oversees bid protests. The contract faced two rounds of protests, including one from 12 vendors that were unsuccessful in the second round.

After the cancellation, DHS issued an unusually self-reflective letter to vendors that stated, among other things, that the procurement had flaws that couldn’t be fixed, including documents that had been altered by employees.

FLASH was developed in the DHS Procurement Innovation Lab as a way to contract with small businesses for agile development and other DevOps services.

The July 26 letter -- signed by executives from Navitas Business Consulting, STSI, Ad Hoc, LinkTec, Karsun Solutions, Innovations JV, SemanticBits and SimonComputing -- said the contract had the potential to transform them.

Furthermore, by “aggressively seeking a new path, instead of working within the status quo,” the agency offered a chance to learn “in this grand experiment,” they wrote.

The letter is another example of the unusual candor that has followed the contract’s cancellation.

At a June ACT-IAC conference, Correa said the cancellation provided key lessons for an agency that is looking to inject more innovation into its acquisition processes. DHS Acting Undersecretary for Management Chip Fulghum joined her in taking responsibility. Both said that they were proud of the innovative work that went into FLASH, even though it was flawed.

"I just want to remind everyone [that] FLASH was an experiment through the Procurement Innovation Lab," Correa said at the event. "As happens with experiments, some things go well and some things don't. The last thing I'll say is that I own it. I lived it because it's my project and my failure."

“I own it right there with her," Fulghum said. "It would be easy for the procurement community to sit back and do business as usual. Soraya everyday encourages her folks to put their toe on the line, never go over the line and continue to push it out."

The letter from the vendors encouraged DHS not to retreat on innovative techniques. “FLASH represents the future, even with a few minor tactical flaws,” it stated. “We encourage DHS to learn from FLASH and push forward.”

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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