Innovation in Federal Health IT Acquisitions

Published: October 20, 2016

Acquisition ReformCDCGSAHealth ITNIHTACVA

Federal acquisition executives in the health IT arena are turning to innovative procurement practices to try and keep pace with technology advancement.

AFCEA’s Bethesda chapter convened a panel of federal health It acquisition experts at their Health IT Day last week to speak about new approaches their organizations are using to fulfill requirements in an environment that is advancing at an accelerated speed.

With Chris Dorobek of GovLoop moderating, panelist spoke of successes and challenges in using new approaches to acquire IT for use in the betterment of patient and public health.

U.S. Digital Service’s (USDS) Shannon Sartin spoke about the need to shift mindsets from defining requirements to Statements of Objectives and procuring solutions “in smaller pieces rather than giant contracts.”

Mark Junda’s Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) within VA’s Technology Acquisition Center is working with the USDS to bring procurement innovation into VA and publicize successes. His group brings acquisitions into the lab as test cases to acquire and manage them differently.  Mark stated that “the FAR is actually very permissible if you allow it to be.  Sometimes it’s worth legitimately taking risks.”

Roya Konzman from GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, Office of IT Schedules, stated that there are now 40 vendors on the Health IT SIN for Schedule 70. Her biggest challenge is to get customer agencies to start using the Health IT SIN.  “DHA will be one of our main customers, but it is for use by all customer agencies,” Konzman said.

Charles Hicks with NIH’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) stated that some of the biggest challenges he sees with his customers is they don’t even know what they need.  “My organization sits in a unique position because we can see what other agencies are doing, such as with cloud, so we can offer advice to our other federal customers.”  He went on to say, “the rigidity of the FAR has paralyzed a lot of COs. They are not willing to try something different.” 

Dorobek asked the panelists to talk about innovation.  He stated that “it still feels like we are doing a lot of the same things we’ve been doing for years.” Hicks from NITAAC suggested that, “you need to have the OIG and CIO part of the process to help you feel comfortable trying to be more innovative.”  Dale DeFilipps of CDC added, “It’s important to get all the players (contracting, program, funding folks) together upfront and approach innovation as a team.” 

When asked the key to changing the procurement culture across the federal government, Junda with VA stated, “Just being able to share successes and fan the flame will help it perpetuate across the agency and across government.”