USPTO CIO: Pace of tech change continues to pose challenges for agencies acquiring IT services

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Keeping up with rapidly evolving commercial technology remains a major challenge for federal agencies acquiring IT services, according to the chief information officer of the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office.

Speaking with FedScoop, Jamie Holcombe said departments continue to struggle with writing IT contracts that balance the need to obtain new technology as quickly as possible while also avoiding vendor lock-in.

“[H]ow easy is it to bring in [new technology] from an emerging technology point of view? If it’s not done within 90 days, don’t talk about right? You can’t spend years, because by the time you’re putting something in, it’s been overlaid with something else,” Holcombe said.

He added: “[You’re wrong] if you’re not writing your contracts for errors and omissions. If you’re not writing your contracts to be changed in the future, you’re also wrong.”

Holcombe spoke with FedScoop after the agency earlier this month agreed to a secure access service edge (SASE) contract with technology vendor Netskope. The new contract was awarded using the NASA SEWP governmentwide acquisition contract and is the first such contract to be agreed upon by a federal agency.

Secure access service edge is a framework for network architecture that brings cloud-native security technologies together with wide area network capabilities to connect users and systems. The contract could be worth $4 million and could last up to 19 months.

Holcombe added that using alternative acquisition pathways such as governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC) vehicles can often be the most effective option for bringing services to government in a way that can be adapted as mission demands change.

One of Holcombe’s first moves after his appointment as CIO in 2019 was to push the agency to use more GWACs for IT services acquisition vehicles, which can allow departments to obtain greater value for money by using the purchasing power of multiple agencies when negotiating with vendors.

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CIO, Jamie Holcombe, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
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