18F calling for industry to help with overwhelming demand

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Overwhelmed with interest from other government agencies, 18F is looking to private industry to help increase rapid governmentwide service offerings with a new agile procurement vehicle.

The General Services Administration digital production shop recently announced its intention to create an agile blanket purchase agreement under GSA’s IT Schedule 70. Though 18F has grown to 100 members in just a year, Noah Kunin, director of delivery architecture at 18F, said the demand for the group’s services has grown just as fast, if not faster.

“Agency demand is just explosive,” Kunin said during an industry day webinar this week. “Increasingly we know we are not going to be the one solution, so that’s why we want to create a marketplace for private industry to come in and [fulfill] the needs that we will never be able to scale to.”

“Really, this agile services delivery vehicle is one way we hope to meet that ongoing demand,” he said.

Through the BPA, 18F is essentially “creating a micromarket that features vendors who specialize in doing software delivery the same way 18F does — user-centered design, agile software development and DevOps methodology,” Kunin said. 18F plans to award 15 to 20 contracts through the initial process.

And while 18F targets agile services, the procurement vehicle is also meant to mimic the repeating sprint cycles of the methodology. 18F will begin by piloting a GSA-only two-to-three-month alpha cycle during which it will analyze the vehicle. Applicants that successfully make it through the alpha stage with GSA will then move on to the governmentwide beta stage.

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“This is one of the first vehicles 18F is building for governmentwide use, so we’re going to keep it closed to a smaller group of people while we’re still learning, and once we have those lessons, then we can appropriately open it up to the rest of government,” Kunin said. “And if we find out ‘Hey we can open it up even quicker,’ we’ll do that.”

18F will continuously repeat this cycle to fine-tune it; if something goes wrong, it can change the agreement. Likewise, 18F will continuously add and eliminate vendors based on transparent performance metrics to keep competition healthy.

On the vendor-side of the procurement, a developer’s ability to rapidly prototype working software will be key. Unlike other contracting vehicles, the agile BPA will not rely on a written proposal but rather a minimum viable product to give agencies a glimpse of what they are buying.

“It will make it easier and faster to get the kind of tech development help and talent that agencies need,” Phaedra Chrousos, the newly appointed associate administrator of 18F, as well as GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, told FedScoop. “It requires software developers to actually produce code and put that code up to GitHub before they’re hired. This sort of mimics what’s happening in the startup world outside the government and will help ensure that the software teams you hire in this BPA can work agile.”

It also organically limits the potential contractors to small businesses, said Aaron Snow, deputy executive director of 18F.

“It’s going to naturally appeal mostly to small businesses anyway, with the limits on contract size and the duration,” Snow said. And what those small businesses can expect from agencies could be varied, he added. “The kind of work we’re going to be asking for could be anything from a single resource, ‘We need a designer or a developer to supplement an existing team,’ to ‘We have a project and product manager here to run a project, but we need an entire team to execute on a component or a service.'”

18F will release a request for quotes for the alpha phase later this month, and it plans to award contracts to 15 to 20 vendors by May. After analyzing the alpha phase, the group will release an request for quotes for the governmentwide beta stage, which will be awarded early next year, at the latest.

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18F, Aaron Snow, agile, Applications & Software, Citizen Services, Government IT News, Noah Kunin, Phaedra Chrousos, Procurement, Tech
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