The White House is building labs for agencies to test and tinker with innovative acquisition methodologies, hoping to improve the way the government buys technology.
U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung and U.S. CIO Tony Scott issued a memo to CFO Act agency CIOs and CAOs Wednesday directing them to establish IT-focused innovative acquisition labs by May 2.
Those labs should “provide the agency’s workforce with a clear pathway to test and document new acquisition practices and facilitate fresh perspectives on existing practices” and “help programs and [integrated project teams] successfully execute emerging and well-established acquisition practices to achieve better results for the taxpayer.”
“These new labs will provide a pathway to test and implement more innovative approaches to acquisitions, with a strong emphasis on improving IT investments,” Rung wrote in a White House blog.
This guidance follows the spirit of innovative acquisition spaces like the Department of Health and Human Services’ Buyers Club and the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, both stood up in recent years to help the departments improve the way they buy goods and services, particularly IT.
Rung has had an idea in the works for this type of agency innovative acquisition safe space for a while now. She mentioned in June 2015 that she wanted to replicate the Buyers Club model governmentwide.
[Read more: The ‘tipping point’ of innovative IT acquisition.]
The HHS Buyers Club and its leader, Mark Naggar, offered support to agencies as they stand up their labs.
“The HHS Buyers Club has been front and center since April 2014, dissecting the various problems, developing unique solutions, and collaborating throughout HHS and across the federal government with successful results, lessons learned, and frequent feedback to address and resolve the problems at hand,” Naggar wrote in a blog post. “While our office is housed within the IDEA Lab at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we educate employees across government about ways their agencies and offices can get involved.”
Rung’s team at the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy last year also partnered with the U.S. Digital Service to launch the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Training and Development Program to train selected agency procurement officials on buying IT in a more effective manner. The first cadre from that program will graduate in April, and this new guidance will give those digital IT acquisition professionals, and others, a space to unleash what they’ve learned, the memo explains.
Agencies are also required to appoint an “acquisition innovation advocate” who will “encourage testing of new ideas and better ways of executing existing practices and working with OMB and other agencies to share best practices and lessons learned.” The advocates must be in place by March 31, the guidance says.
The guidance recognizes the increasing importance for agencies to consider more effective ways to procure technology, citing the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act as a driver for the labs. Agencies are also directed to the Digital Services Playbook and TechFAR Handbook as guides on developing and applying innovative acquisition best practices.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been an early adopter of the innovative acquisition lab model with support from the General Services Administration’s 18F and its consulting team. 18F and the White House’s U.S. Digital Service will provide similar support under the new guidance to help agencies taking part in a separate digital innovative acquisition lab pilot.
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