5 Ideas on Project RFP-EZ

When I read the announcement of the White House Innovation Fellows, I was quickly drawn to the Project RFP-EZ

Building a platform that makes it easier for small high-growth businesses to navigate the federal government, and enables agencies to quickly source low-cost, high-impact information technology solutions.

What I like best about is really simple – we need more innovation in acquisitions. As they say – if you want to make change, follow the money. And if we can improve how government buys, we can fix a lot of the big issues in government.

Last week I wrote “7 Ideas on Project MyGov” – so this week here are my 5 Ideas on Project RFP-EZ

1) IGCE Creator – I love the tool they created to build statement of works. Next step, would be if they created a tool that could quickly create an independent government cost estimate.

2) Yelp for Government

I’ve talked about this a number of times but it is still way to hard to find past performance information nor is it 20% as helpful as Yelp or Amazon reviews. It would be great if government buyers could quickly get good reviews on past performance of vendors in as easy to use a format as Yelp or Amazon.

In 10 seconds, I can find a rough ranking of top mexican restaurants in DC. What if I could quickly find some of top 8a PM contractors who’ve worked at DHS before. That’d be truly game changing.

3) Change the Culture – The hardest part with making innovation in acquisition is often the culture isn’t there to take risks. Contract specialists are often swamped with work and they have no incentive to choose a risky new way – faster or cheaper could be perceived as potentially riskier so it’s easiest just to do as told and go simplest way (often these day it’s just lowest cost).

To change the culture, we need to empower acquisition specialists. Like any cultural change, it’s a mix of change management techniques – strong leadership, strong incentives (could we create an incentive pool with money saved and distribute part as bonuses to best COs?), good communication and marketing (need a simple, clear prominent campaign).

4) Acquisition Data Hackathons
I hope RFP-EZ is the beginning of a push to build new technology tools to improve the buying process. There’s a ton of acquisition data that could be used to build new tools and resources to help acquisition professionals if brought together in challenges and hackathons. A lot of great data has been released in good formats but other important data (like labor rates are buried in PDFs). Already RFP-EZ have improved some data by creating APIs of EPLS and DSBS – would be great to get PPRS, CPARS, FDPS as well as pricing information from GSA Advantage

Just think of all the advancements in buying in your personal lives – from mobile commerce to amount of peer reviews to great aggregate analysis of products like TVs. All that can be built – acquisition.gov already hosts a number of tools (like newly released SAM) but could improve their ability to quickly develop great tools through challenges/hackathons.

5) It’s all about Adoption – The core RFP-EZ tool of running procurements under $150k through this channel is awesome. Once built, the issue is all about adoption. If enough procurements are run through it, the companies will come. If the process really does save a lot of time and meets all the needs, agencies will adopt it. So at the beginning, I strongly encourage to spend most of time on the adoption (which is a lot of just promoting). I’d look at common procurements under $150k and encourage them under this route – such categories often include training, short consulting projects, web-based tools, meetings, printing/flyers/etc, among others. And just get out there talking to as many COs and project managers as you can

There’s my 5 ideas – what’s your idea?

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Terry Weaver

It is important, however, that we don’t lessen the standards we hold all vendors to – our customers / citizens expect to have their security and privacy protected as well as ensuring equal access for persons with disabilities. Project RFP EZ should incorporate the acquisition language found in the QuickLinks on buyaccessible.gov to make sure that whatever technology is being built with taxpayer dollars, it is accessible to all.

Adam Becker

Great post Steve! Looking forward to seeing the next 3 that I’m sure you’ll be doing :).

Here are some thoughts I had while reading:

1) I like this idea a lot, and as far as I understand it, the main cost of creating IGCEs is doing the research — the rest is just putting the numbers into a spreadsheet. And yes, we should have a better way of doing this research. In an ideal situation, we would want to have public and private sector line-item prices for each deliverable included in a SOW, so for example, when adding “CMS integration”, you could see that it cost an average of $XX in the private sector and $XX in the public sector. We’ve got some initial ideas on how to do this, and for now, we’re gonna have to optimize for what will be feasible in the next 6 months.

2) This is great, and sorely needed. (It’s actually funny you chose that screenshot, because I just created a jQuery plugin that does the same “in-map search” that Yelp does:http://ada.mbecker.cc/jquery-birdseye – gonna try to integrate it with the full database of small businesses in the near future.) There’s already the EPLS, which is the list of contractors who are not allowed to sell to the federal government, but having a site to rate not just excluded vendors but all of them would be very valuable. Something to consider is that this might cause a ruckus if some vendors started getting unfavorable reviews which in turn caused them to lose out on contracts. There is already a contest period where vendors can ask “why was I not chosen for this job?”, and I’m not sure that “We saw you had some 3-star reviews on GovYelp” would be an OK answer.

3) Yes, our plan is to create a system that not only makes the contracting officers’ jobs easier, but also less risky. The power of SOW Composer and templatizing SOWs is that we can tell contracting officers: “You have approved this SOW 3 times in the past. This time, only the timeline was changed.”

4) The Open Data team is doing a lot with hackathons, and we’ll talk with them about this when we see them next. I bet we’ll see more and more data being liberated as part of the Digital Government Strateg, not only the fellowship.

5) Our thought is that 6 months is enough for a prototype, and if by January we have just a handful of projects that have gone through RFP-EZ, we can hold them up at the end and say, “These innovative project managers and contracting officers saved $XXXXXX by using RFP-EZ, and you can too.”

Thanks for the feedback, and let’s be sure keep the conversation going, with anyone else who wants to jump in too.

Jaime Gracia

As Adam correctly states, the biggest problem with many of the issues is getting the data. Government is drowning in data, but none of it is organized in a way that can help create the necessary tools for an effective contract (i.e. IGCE, acquisition plan, etc.).

In the spirit of transparency and openness, I always envisioned the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) to be a repository for this information. The contract file should be made available, which will allow other federal procurement personnel, to include Project Managers, to access the information and prevent duplication and redundancy, in addition to providing lessons learned and badly needed accountability.

Dr. Steve Kelman and I, now at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), discussed a similar past performance rating tool for a thumbs up/down approach for “simple buys.” However, I strongly oppose such an approach because of the realities of the environment.

Firstly, one bad rating, justified or not, means no more business. It is that simple. Without the opportunity to challenge the rating, there is no opportunity for verification. Frankly, even with the challenge posted, many procurement officials will not take the time to verify the information. They see the thumbs down, and that is enough to move on.

Second, acquisition is a process and people-oriented endeavor. The process is overly complicated and complex, which results from the people (e.g. acquisition personnel or 1102s), who are overworked, understaffed, and undertrained. The skills and capabilities of the acquisition workforce continue to deteriorate, as highlighted by a recent Washington Post article.

Education personnel is critical for adoption and use. Not news obviously, but acquisition personnel are a “top-down” bunch, so leadership needs to understand the value these new tools can bring by demonstrating the reduced amount of effort, shortening acquisition lead times, increasing efficiency, eliminating redundancy, and increasing compliance and oversight.