Government acquisition is too hard.

Government websites are sloppy.

Its too hard to make things for governmen
t because the acquisition process stands in the way.

I say buck up! There are people successfully navigating the process because they realize – we own the process. We make the rules. It is up to us to experiment and make the system more efficient and better for the American people.

A different kind of government agency is using Open Source Micro-Purchasing for writing code. They are looking for coding projects that may be accomplished for under $3500. Why? Because all you have to do is pay with your government purchase card… no other steps in the acquisition process are needed.

We should all be more like the General Services Administration (GSA) 18F.

18F Mission

18F is a civic consultancy for the government, inside the government, working with agencies to rapidly deploy tools and services that are easy to use, cost efficient, and reusable. Our goal is to change how the government buys and develops digital services by helping agencies adopt modern techniques that deliver superior products.
We are transforming government from the inside out, creating cultural change by working with teams inside agencies who want to create great services for the public.
We are a trusted partner for agencies working to transform how they build and buy tools and services in a user-centered way.
We will accomplish our mission by:

  • putting the needs of the public first
  • being design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven
  • deploying tools and services early and often

More below the break.

 I’ll let 18F describe the experiment.

What’s the experiment?

Specifically, we’re going to use our “micro-purchase” authority. Like all federal agencies, 18F has the ability to use a “purchase card” to directly buy products and services, as long as the price does not exceed $3,500. We’ve actually written about this authority before, and we’re currently building a product to help agencies use that micro-purchase authority more effectively. But as far as we can tell, no one has ever used the micro-purchase authority to buy code. And we’d like to try it.

Can you imagine? You could use your government purchase card to streamline the functionality of your watchfloor’s Data Management. Need a qualification tracker integrated into a website? No problem. Thinking about competing a contract for a plug in to connect two systems together? Why bother, grab your local supply officer and use your government purchase card.

The skeptic in my asks, “How might this fail?” Well, it will fail if no one uses it.

What if the members of the Cryptologic Community were to test this out? Contact the JAG, get the CO and Chop onboard and solve some sticky issues that have been plaguing us for a while. In my mind, this is a very low risk experiment if we let it be.

How can you play? Again, I’ll just borrow straight from the 18F blog.

How will it work?

On Monday, October 26, we will tag a GitHub issue in the CALC repository with a “micro-purchase” tag. In the issue, we’ll specify the acceptance criteria and a closing time. At that moment, the opening “bid” would be $3499, and companies would then have the ability to bid down the price. Whoever has the lowest bid at the closing time will have 10 working days to ship the code necessary to satisfy the criteria. If the criteria are met, the vendor gets paid. It’s that easy. If the criteria aren’t met, the next lowest bidder gets 10 working days to ship the code. In order to make this work, we will provide acceptance criteria, instead of requirements. This limits the possibility of misinterpretation and ensures the quality of delivery.

Will it work with your command? Will it work with your organization? I have no idea. I’m just the blogger. It will take a few phone calls. I recommend inviting 18F to your organization, or better yet, visit them (They are on the corner of 18th and F St in downtown DC… get it… 18F?) I suspect it will fall under the same guidelines as purchasing an office chair from GSA… except it is Code.

18F does consulting work. Remember the three part series we just ran on Design Thinking in government? Yep, they can help you with that.

Don’t want the be the first one on the Navy block to try out 18F? Well you aren’t. The Navy Reserve CIO is beating you to the punch.

Last thing. We here are Station Hypo are interested in if you have used the ideas presented here. Please, post a comment, send us an email, or hit us up on Facebook. I will personally mail a prize to the first person who can demonstrate an attempted (not necessarily successful) initiative with 18F.