MA

HHS Buyers Club: Rethinking the IT Acquisition Process

Published: August 20, 2014

Acquisition ReformHHS

The new HHS Buyers Club aims to bring innovation to the acquisition of federal IT in order to achieve better value and outcomes.

At first glance, the name of the program led me to believe that it was the banding together of HHS agencies to achieve lower prices on IT, like a Costco or Sam’s Club concept.  But after further investigation, I discovered the idea is more about HHS procurement professionals offering and testing innovative purchasing ideas.

According to the HHS Buyers Club website, it is “focused on addressing a critical problem in government, effective and efficient procurement of information technology.”  The club plans to rethink the acquisition process by engaging key stakeholders to study why large scale IT projects fail.

The club is planning to test innovative procurement methodologies for IT service acquisitions; develop newer, easier, and more effective procurement models; and engage all key stakeholders with effective mutually-beneficial education and outreach.  The group plans to begin with website redevelopment and large-scale enterprise lifecycle revisions.  Use cases for innovative procurement methodologies will be shared to benefit other procurement shops and federal agencies.

HHS soft-launched the Buyers Club in June and is planning to grow the effort for a hard launch in 2015.  HHS’ CTO Bryan Sivak said the goals of the club are to bring new vendors into the market and to stimulate innovation among contracting officers.  "It's an experiment. We will see if it works. But if we can prove with a few examples that this idea has potential and we get better results with less money being spent in a shorter period of time, then everyone wins.”

Earlier this month, the Buyers Club released its first RFP.  The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) is soliciting help to redesign its public and intranet websites, and modernize two databases. 

Although this effort is not a large scale IT project, the RFP gives some insight into the new buyers club approach to IT acquisition.   The RFP offers a “statement of objective” rather than a traditional “statement of work.”  Vendors will only be required to submit an eight-page concept paper after which five will be chosen to proceed by creating prototypes.  The five vendors will each be given $10,000 to fund the prototype development which the government will own.  They will also each participate in a two-hour Q&A session.  Final award will follow.

 

This procurement concept is much more about vendors showing the federal buyer “what they can do” rather than writing about it in a lengthy proposal.  The time frame is also shorter than a traditional cycle.  Vendors only have two weeks to respond with their concept paper, then three weeks to develop the prototype.

 

I’m curious to see if this new procurement approach delivers effective results.  If so, these ideas could change the way agencies buy IT services.