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FCW : August 15, 2014
STEVE KELMAN is professor of public management at Harvard University s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Of ce of Federal Procurement Policy. Commentary | STEVE KELMAN When Mark Rockwell s article "Teaching feds not to fear the FAR" (Page 18) appeared on FCW.com a few weeks ago, it got a fair amount of attention in the Twittersphere and is de nitely worth reading. It discusses a number of efforts underway to lower the fear factor in the government IT community about the Federal Acquisition Regu- lation and to emphasize exibilities available in the FAR. The initiatives include a Buy- ers Club led by Bryan Sivak, chief technology of cer at the Depart- ment of Health and Human Ser- vices, and a TechFAR document being prepared at the Of ce of Federal Procurement Policy under the leadership of the indefatigable Mathew Blum. These are very good efforts that deserve support. Many new and exciting procurement techniques, such as contests and crowdsourc- ing, are already permitted by the FAR, as those quoted in Rockwell s article note. The government can access some crowdsourcing web- sites for less than $3,000, which means services can be purchased without further ado using a govern- ment credit card. We do, however, need to ask ourselves whether there are impor- tant areas of IT contracting where the FAR is a genuine impediment as opposed to merely a vague source of fear. I would like to nominate two very different kinds of IT procure- ment that the FAR does hinder: purchasing Web design and stand- alone app services from innova- tive new rms and contracting for agile development. I d like to get a dialogue going about whether they are genuine obstacles and whether there are others that should be added to the list. My guess is that agencies fre- quently dramatically overpay for mediocre Web design and app development by large, traditional government IT contractors. There are oodles of small startup rms that should be doing this work. In terms of the procurement process, simpli ed procedures for commer- cial-item buys of as much as $1.5 million should make the process relatively simple. I suspect that the problem lies in the various "socioeconomic" contract clauses that frighten small companies. Many of those clauses even apply to work under $100,000. If I m right, that approach is costing the government and tax- payers a lot of money for bene ts that are minute at best. Do small startups really need af rmative action plans that go beyond those that apply to companies in general? In this case, statutory change is needed. I propose eliminating all such clauses for contracts or task orders with small businesses that have had ve or fewer government contracts, as we currently do with purchases under $3,000. The problem with agile is dif- ferent and centers on the bureau- cratic nature of the government s past-performance system. With its very general requirements for individual short spurts, agile devel- opment works well in the commer- cial world because private-sector customers can easily and quickly stop giving work to vendors that screw up on one too many iterative "sprints." Federal agencies are not allowed to be nearly so nimble in changing or curtailing a contract. My suggestion is that agencies seek to obtain a deviation for a set period of time from the FAR s requirements for past-performance documentation either for an indi- vidual contract or for all agency software contracts that use agile development. We could then see what happens when the customer has the ability to stop giving task orders to a poorly performing ven- dor with only a moderate explana- tion of why. Even better, Congress could pass a test program authorizing such experiments for all agile con- tracts for three to ve years. Let s give the innovators some room. ■ What needs to be xed in the FAR? Here are two areas where the Federal Acquisition Regulation might present obstacles to effective IT contracting --- and solutions for each We need to ask ourselves whether there are important areas of IT contracting where the FAR is a genuine impediment. 16 August 15, 2014 FCW.COM
July 30, 2014
August 30, 2014