4 Biggest Challenges Facing RFP-EZ – Part 2

Last week we launched our series asking what you would do if you were in charge of RFP-EZ. You can listen to Part 1 here. The post includes insights from RFP-EZ fellow Clay Johnson, former OFPP Administrator Allan Burman and former senior procurement official David Drabkin.

Just a quick reminder: Project RFP-EZ is one of five initiatives that are part of the Obama administration’s Digital Government Initiative. The initiatives are led by Presidential Innovation Fellows — these are small teams that were being called in for a six-month stint to provide outside the box thinking to vexing problems. And the initiatives range from MyGov, which is tasked to reimagining the relationship between the federal government and its citizens through by essentially creating an online portal for the government. How’s that for a challenging task.

For part 2 we wanted to focus on the 4 biggest challenges the RFP-EZ fellows will face.

On the panel hosted by Chris Dorobek are:

  • DC: Daniel Chenok, Executive Director, Center for the Business of Government IBM Global Business Services.
  • GB: Gadi Ben-Yehuda, Director for Innovation and Social Media, the Business of Government IBM Global Business Services.

Challenge Number 1: CULTURE

DC: Culture is an under-estimated issues. Clearly there are procurement rules and procedures that have been built up for years. And for good reason. But, there are also some rules that haven’t kept up with the changing times. While it’s important to comply with the rules, the FAR really isn’t as inflexible as most people think it is. Look at MythBusters, the FAR isn’t un-moveable. You have to bring the career procurement people on board to understand that simple coding can make their job easier. The fellows will have to win over favor.

GB: When you work in an industry for a long time you start to speak the language and internalize written and unwritten rules. When you bring in someone from the outside they have a different way of looking at things. They ask ‘can we try this,’ the procurement world needs to try to embrace these ideas. To see the energy and value of an ‘outside the beltway idea.’

DC: Culture needs to shift from a focus on process to a focus on results.

Challenge Number 2: LANGUAGE

GB: The fellows can’t adopt the language of government. Especially if they want to bring in new small business contractors. For example one Fellow tells the story of an RFP that asked for an online information retrieval system. What the RFP was looking for was a website. But a small business that doesn’t have a procurement expert on staff would never know to search for that in the current system.

Challenge Number 3: ITERATION

GB: No matter what, after this month the Fellows will leave and they will leave a 1.0 type of system in place. We all know that in order for there to be lasting impact the government will have to take it upon themselves and iterate. To create the next version of the system.

Challenge Number 4: LEADERSHIP

DC: Getting leadership aligned and having them set the tone is paramount. The CAO council needs to accept and embrace the work the Fellows are doing. They need to make it a positive activity for career feds to get on board with the fellow’s developments.

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Andrew H. LaVanway

What was true in 1687 is true today – the rate of change is: 1) Directly proportional to force applied and; 2) Directly inverse to the mass of the changing object.

For #1, put: Three guys. For #2, put: The Federal government. Solve.

Jaime Gracia

Communications – The initiative needs to communicate its value, and how they help procurement officials save time and money, at the same time demonstrating innovation and opening opportunities for new small businesses and innovative ideas to a procurement.

It seems like they are just making yet more stove-piped technologies the will never get used, since the culture is endemic to not communicate and to not take risks. There is really very little desire for change, and the status quo is overly cumbersome procedures and processes for buying goods and services. The FAR does have flexibility and commercial best practices (FAR 12 & 13).

However, procurement personnel are told by legal counsel across government not to do this.