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Posted by on Sep 2, 2014

Embrace Flexibility, Innovation in Contracting

The White House is encouraging contracting officials to take advantage of existing procurement flexibilities and find innovative ways to achieve acquisition missions. Innovative procurement doesn’t just hinge on IT buys, though that is a major driver of the effort. Policymakers are encouraging contract and program officials to push boundaries, take risks, and engage in a governmentwide discussion on what’s working and what isn’t.

The newly-launched U.S. Digital Service recently released the TechFAR Handbook, a guidebook highlighting flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) with “a particular focus on how to use contractors to support an iterative, customer-driven software development process, as is routinely done in the private sector.” The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and E-Gov are currently taking comments on the TechFAR, so get involved.

OSTP also just released its Innovative Contracting Case Studies, which, like the name suggests, is an evolving document cataloging a number of real-life examples of agencies using innovation within the regulatory framework to achieve successful and cost-saving mission outcomes. For example, the guide most famously details NASA’s recent Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program. With NASA’s moon program on indefinite hiatus, it kicked off ILDD, which “intends to purchase specific data related to lunar exploration resulting from commercial development of small, robotic lunar landers.”

To achieve this, NASA issued a broad agency announcement (BAA) to attract a range of non-traditional competitors — there were a range of small businesses, non-profits, new startups, and university consortia vying for the spots. These weren’t traditional contractors. But neither was the structure of the deal, which combined some attributes of a firm-fixed price contract with the flexibilities of an IDIQ.

In the end, NASA selected six teams, all of which are currently competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE — where the winner will land a robot on the moon, have it travel 500 meters, and send the data back to earth. This unconventional approach is being held up as a success story in innovation, showing how “NASA has used milestone-based payments to promote private sector competition for the next generation of … moon exploration.”

OFPP would like for the list of procurement innovation stories and case studies to grow. It has started a Google public discussion forum for Government Procurement Innovation and both government and industry are encouraged to share success stories.

The power of these two documents to shape future procurements will depend on how much the acquisition community embraces new ideas and takes risks to achieve mission outcomes in new ways.

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