OMB to Agencies: Establish Acquisition Innovation Labs

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The White House on Wednesday called on all Federal agencies to establish so-called acquisition innovation labs to improve how the government purchases information technology products and services.

In a joint memorandum, U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung and Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott outlined a six-step process for senior acquisition officials and CIOs to be able to identify and leverage new approaches to buying goods and services, with a particular emphasis on IT acquisitions. Agencies have until the end of this month to identify an internal advocate for acquisition innovation, and until May 2 to establish a lab or complete the review of an existing structure.

“These new labs will provide a pathway to test and implement more innovative approaches to acquisitions, with a strong emphasis on improving IT investments. They would also help agencies successfully adopt emerging acquisition best practices to more effectively deliver services to the American people,” Rung wrote in a March 9 blog post.

The new memorandum seeks to leverage the success of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Buyers Club and a similar innovation lab setup at the Department of Homeland Security.

“In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Chief Technology Officer stood up an acquisition innovation lab, and, within months, took advantage of key plays from the Digital Services Playbook and TechFAR Handbook to merge multiple legacy systems into a central Web content management system,” Rung said. “Similarly, shortly after the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Chief Procurement Officer stood up an acquisition innovation lab, DHS successfully applied a suite of best practices to cut procurement lead time by more than half for a competitively awarded, multimillion-dollar contract for critically needed cybersecurity services for the Einstein project.”

The memorandum gives agencies what it calls “wide latitude” to structure, staff, and manage their innovation labs in a way that is best for the agency. “For example, an agency may wish to use the lab as an extension of the IT acquisition cadres they have been standing up in accordance with FITARA,” the memo states, referring to the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. “The lab might provide internal consultation for its own workforce, such as 18F Consulting offers for those that currently lack such expertise.” The agency may also choose to employ the lab as a supporting arm of its CIO, senior procurement executive, or chief acquisition officer, the memo states.

Rung also encouraged agencies to apply for a new Digital Acquisition Innovation Lab pilot to help accelerate the development of digital acquisition capabilities.

“Establishing Acquisition Innovation Labs government-wide will play an increasingly important role in empowering and equipping agency employees to implement their promising ideas and foster a culture of innovation that leverages proven government and private sector practices,” wrote Rung.

Dan Verton
About Dan Verton
MeriTalk Executive Editor Dan Verton is a veteran journalist and winner of the First Place Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for Best News Reporting -- the highest award in the nation for business/trade journalism. Dan earned a Master's Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and has spent the last 20 years in the nation's capital reporting on government, enterprise technology, policy and national cybersecurity. He’s also a former intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, has authored three books on cybersecurity, and has testified on critical infrastructure protection before both House and Senate committees.
One Comment
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    We seem to be stuggling with important leaps forward in Federal IT right at the end of an administration. Why didn't the administration get these ideas out of the barn earlier? Let's hope the next administration picks up the best of whats on the table and continues to drive real change. What happens to 18F really depends on what real results they can show, a lot of chatter on both sides would be good to get some real proof points into the open so folks can properly understand the value digital services and 18F have delivered to the government and the tax payer.

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