"Risk is giving yourself permission to fail and an opportunity to succeed," said Clay Johnson. Johnson is one of the Presidential Innovation Fellows tasked with helping streamline and modernize the federal procurement system. The first of its kind program, brought in innovators from the private sector for six-month fellowships to help government solve problems.
"RFP-EZ's goal is to make it easier for small businesses to sell to the government and to help government acquire technology easier," said Johnson. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program what they came up with.
"We are trying to lower the barrier for entry for small businesses entering the government space. To bring in new players and hopefully the added competition will drop prices," said Johnson. "RFP-EZ is right now geared towards web oriented professional services like web design, content management and social media. It is only for acquisitions under the simplified acquisition threshold or $150,000 and under."
How it works for Contracting Officers?
"When we interviewed contracting officers and program managers we discovered a problem right away. They told us about the typical procurement cycle. Let's say I want to buy a new website. The program managers meet and discuss what they want it to look like. They all get together and create a monster statement of work. They give that to the contracting officer, who doesn't really understand the monster statement. They don't approach the right vendors. etc," said Johnson.
- First thing we needed to fix was the statements of work. Because if the statement are poorly written and the tech community can't understand it, then we've already failed.
- So, we wrote a software called SOW Composer. What is does is make it so that there are stored templates to use. They can use the form from the very beginning, so the amount of time wasted writing and re-writing the statements of work are reduced.
- Because we now only ask four questions we can present those questions to the contracting officer all within one interface.
- The software is beautiful and something you can easily work with.
How it works for businesses?
"We wanted to make it super simple to bit on a contract. So you go to RFP-EZ and browse through a list of projects. If you want to send in a bid you answer 4 questions:
- How would you do the work?
- What in the past demonstrates you are good at this type of work?
- Who would work on it?
- How much would it cost?
"Gone are the days of 100 page proposals," said Johnson.
"Acknowledging and accepting the idea that contracting officer presented a huge opportunity and not a hurdle. But the contracting officers immediately saw the value of RFP-EZ. There are obviously still people who are hesitant. They've been doing something some way for years and want to keep doing it. But there are a lot of opportunities to improve the process here so that contracting officers can do what they are actually passionate about: market research and price negotiations," said Johnson.
Where Does RFP-EZ go from here?
"We've already in one week had 250 new small businesses submit proposals. So the opportunities are huge. We need to make it broader than just web design. We need to extend the software to better improve the lives of contracting officers. We want to make sure we are open and don't produce competing software," said Johnson.
What's it like to be a PMF?
"For me, working inside of government after being an open government activist for so many years has been an exercise in my naivete. I've learned that a lot of complaints I had from the outside of government about how it works aren't quiet that simple. There are often times good reasons the government does things they way they do. Not always, but sometimes. I've learned that government is a complicated beast," said Johnson.
Check out our earlier interview with Clay Johnson, where he talks about launching RFP-EZ.