Skip to Content

Is “Innovation” the answer?

Today, one of the top procurement “buzz words” has to be “innovation.” It seems that every day departments and agencies across the federal government are seeking “innovation” in one form or another. We have seen the Department of Health and Human Services establish a new Buyer’s Club to promote innovative procurement practices, and along these lines, the Department of Homeland Security established a Procurement Innovation Lab. GSA continues to tout the work of 18F, its innovation lab, and, in a recent talk, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter focused on the Department’s need to gain access to Silicon Valley’s innovative technology companies. The Office of Management and Budget also continues to explore opportunities to bring innovative firms to the federal market, including proposing a new “innovation” set-aside authority.

Administrator Anne Rung’s December 4, 2014 memorandum “Transforming the Marketplace: Simplifying Federal Procurement to Improve Performance, Drive Innovation, and Increase Savings,” best sums up the government’s desire for “innovation.” It states, in part, that “[o]pening the acquisition system to greater innovation is critical to ensuring best results in contracts. We must embrace practices that encourage new and better ways of thinking and expand access to the most innovative companies.” To the extent the current focus on “innovation” shines a light on cross-cutting, systematic challenges in the procurement system, it is a positive development that can lead to real opportunities for procurement reform. In the spirit of OFPP’s historic Myth-Busters initiative, here are five practices that should be embraced to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the procurement system:

  • Reduce/Cut Red Tape. Cutting red tape means putting “commercial” back into commercial item contracting, addressing contract duplication, and minimizing the use of government-unique requirements to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Improve Market Research & Requirements Development. Simply put, market research and requirements development are the “blocking and tackling” of procurement. As recognized by countless advisory reviews over the years, improvement here would provide the single most effective way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the procurement system.
  • Reinvigorate Performance-Based Contracting. Despite years of emphasis, the potential of performance-based contracting has yet to be fulfilled. Performance-based contracting can drive government access to the creativity of the commercial market place, increase competition, and achieve greater efficiencies and savings for customer agencies.
  • Address Organizational Conflicts of Interest. Companies who bring new ideas to government or otherwise assist agencies in identifying/articulating needs should not be precluded from competing for related work.
  • Empower the Acquisition Workforce. Management needs to be there to support the acquisition workforce. The acquisition workforce needs professional development support, not another process, to perform its mission.

The central goal of the procurement system is the efficient and effective acquisition of products, services and solutions to meet customer agency mission requirements.   The appropriate product, service or solution will depend on the underlying requirements of the customer agency.

It is through a well-functioning system that the “innovation” sought by government leaders will be facilitated, appropriate to the underlying requirement. To assist in promoting such a system, over the rest of 2015, the FAR & Beyond Blog will devote blogs to each of the identified practices.



Back to top