When it comes down to it acquisition should be every bargain shoppers dream job. Think about it, you get to research, locate and buy the best goods and services for the federal government at the best price.
But it isn’t that simple. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), the timetable and options are very limiting to procurement specialists.
RFP-EZ is trying to make the acquisition process a little easier for contracts under $150,000. RFP-EZ was part of the first and second rounds of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. Clay Johnson was the lead on the RFP-EZ project and is now the CEO at the Department of Better Technology. He was also just awarded a grant from the Knight Foundation to expand RFP-EZ to the state and local levels.
Johnson told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that government procurement is a really difficult problem to solve, the system needs modernizing and adjusted. In order to do that the government will be forced to take a risk.
“We are going to try and take the same open sourced platform from the federal RFP-EZ and deliver it to cities and states,” said Johnson.
How Does RFP-EZ Work?
“RFP-EZ started during the first round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and is continuing on now with the second round. It was sponsored by the SBA the first time and is now co-sponsored by the SBA and GSA. Its job is to see whether or not government through simplified interfaces and using the simplified acquisition threshold can buy better from small businesses, get a better price and can encourage more small businesses to bid on contracts. If that happens it could mean huge savings.”
- “Already we’ve seen success. 40% of the signups in the process were from businesses that hadn’t contracted with government before.”
- “Not only a good way for the government to save money but it is also a way for government to encourage new small businesses to start bidding on government contracts thereby increasing the diversity of available contracts and competition.”
Is the FAR a big hurdle?
“The interesting thing with federal acquisition regulations that doesn’t get published enough, is that fact that if the FAR doesn’t tell you not to do something, you can do it. In fact you are encouraged to do it. So the FAR didn’t give me that much of a problem. The FAR includes a section on the simplified acquisition, that means that contracts worth less than $150,000 can use this streamlined process.”
2 Most Challenging Parts of RFP-EZ
- “The hardest part was the Paperwork Reduction Act. The Act is a bunch of hoops you have to go through to put a form on the internet. It is intended so that tax payers don’t get overwhelmed with forms that government creates but the problem is it’s a huge bottleneck and often government can’t ask the questions they need to ask. We obviously got through the process because we managed to launch but it was only a temporary task, I can’t imagine what people must be going through in government if they don’t carry the title of Presidential Innovation Fellow and they weren’t able to call the federal CTO and CIO and use the weight of the White House to get their projects through. It is a crippling law for the efficacy of government and needs to be fixed. And that’s what I told the President when we met with him at the end of our fellowship.”
- Culture. “The culture of contracting officers is not one of risk taking. They are all about mitigating risk, which makes sense because they want to protect tax dollars but there is an optimal way of doing things. Sometimes the risk mitigation procedures come at a higher cost than the purchase itself. I had to show them that this experiment might not get the absolute best price for a product for less than $10,000 because the amount of work we put in to get the absolute best price will cost more in the end.”
Broad Procurement Lessons Learned
“The big lesson is that when it comes to IT procurement is that if you open the door a little bit by making it easier to interface with contractors and making it easier to so they can bid on contracts then you are looking at savings of millions if not billions of dollars a year.”
“I can hear everybody rolling their eyes at me when I say this process could save 30% because of the simplified acquisition process, and you’re right because you can’t do that right now. But if we use the threshold and easy interfaces to grow relationships with new small businesses and then move them into teaming agreements and then move them into being primes then we have this ladder of engagement that we can create in the long term that will increase competition, increase the contractor eco-system and increase the amount of available technology to purchase then you will yield those savings.”
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