How Gov Can Buy Better, Faster and Cheaper

When most government IT employees hear the word procurement, innovative, fast, and agile are probably not the first words that come to mind. Despite these stereotypical descriptions, many government IT procurement professionals are working hard to bring innovation to procurement processes.

Still don’t believe that procurement can be innovative? On this week’s DorobekINSIDER, Christopher Dorobek sat down with Mark Junda, Contracting Officer at the Technology Acquisition Center at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to explore how he is shaking up the procurement game.

At the Technology Acquisition Center, Junda and his colleagues help the VA procure nearly all of their IT needs. “This includes everything from simple commodity purchase to software development efforts, cloud solutions, and much more,” Junda explained. He compared the Center to other innovation labs like 18F and Digital Services, emphasizing that how his department is structured within the VA allows them to innovate their processes.

However, each innovation lab takes a slightly different form within each agency. “With ours, we identify different projects where we can infuse some sort of innovation,” Junda said. “It doesn’t have to be something that changes the world necessarily, but something that makes acquisition a little different, more efficient, and beneficial to the customer.”

One area that Junda and his team are currently focusing on is evaluation. They have had successes in devising evaluation best practices but now they are starting to take a fresh look at some of these practices. “We want to touch and feel and be able to see what vendors can really do, rather than just read about their approach to doing something, which has been the norm for many years.” Junda explained. As a result, Junda and his team have moved to evaluation through software code submission.

While creating new innovative practices sounds good on paper, it is a little more challenging in implementation. No one wants to be the one to have their innovative procurement plan fail, which can often stymie improvements. In order to counter this, Junda explained that it is best to chunk out innovation in procurement, rather than tackling it all at once. By building off little innovations, the ideas become the norm and are built into processes, creating a cycle of innovation.

Flexible contract options are an example of a little chunk of procurement innovation at the VA. Junda explained that they moved to agile contracting in order to have flexibility to work with evolving functional requirements, rather than being locked in up front. While this model of contracting is risky, it ultimately has paid off for Junda and his team as they are able to deliver the best product, even if it is not the one they started out with.

Looking into the next year, Junda and his team are focusing on trying to identify the right efforts and the right customers to work with in order to be the most innovative. For Junda, this means continuing what he has been doing. “We have to keep finding a few of these at a time where we can try new things and innovate and then share the successes or failures with my organization and the innovation council,” he said. “We can distribute this out to the workforce to the point where everyone becomes innovative and starts thinking in this way.”

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