Aaron Snow, Mollie Ruskin and James Sanders were at different agencies during their time in the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, but they have something in common — the belief that government can operate under the same tight deadlines the fellows themselves did.
Snow, who worked at the General Services Administration on the RFP-EZ project—an initiative meant to streamline the procurement process for small businesses—suggested at an AFFIRM panel Jan. 16 government should adopt a more agile development model for contracting.
Instead of contracts that lay out a project in three to five years, Snow suggested building a prototype in four to six weeks, getting feedback and continuously working and improving on it for two to three years.
Lena Trudeau, associate commissioner at the Office of Strategic Innovation at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, moderated the panel, and added that deliverables of 18 months no longer are acceptable.
So besides accomplishing very specific tasks within the agencies, what else do these innovation fellows bring to government?
“The number of people across government that they were able to work with, integrate with, demonstrate new methods and models of working with is valuable,” Trudeau said. “And having people experience and see what it means to create a minimum viable product in four weeks or six weeks.”
An example of this work is the Prices Paid project by Dr. Robert Read, a PIF working on the RFP-EZ project. Snow told the story of how Read created Prices Paid—which essentially gives procurement officers an idea of what other procurement officers are paying for the same thing—from start to finish in just a few months, with a couple hundred dollars.
“In part, the timeline demonstrates the ability to get these types of projects done quickly,” Snow said.
For PIF like Ruskin who have year-long fellowships, their experience is a little different as they get to immerse themselves further in their host agency.
“A majority of our time is spent working with people at the agencies,” Ruskin said. “A smaller percentage of our time is spent actually building things.”
Ruskin argues there is just as much takeaway for the PIF as there is for government.
“When we go back to whatever organization we’re going to, we bring a complex understanding of government works,” Ruskin said.
Challenges are bound to arise when bringing new ideas and ways of doing things into government. Ruskin said one of the biggest obstacles experienced as a PIF is dealing with some people’s resistance to change. And also simply what culture change means day to day in government.