GSA gives agile development a shot in the arm with awards to 16 vendors

The much-anticipated blanket purchase agreement for agile development services went to 16 vendors late on Friday, setting up a the latest gold rush in federal procurement.

The General Services Administration’s 18F chose those six large and 10 small contractors after they demonstrated a working prototype based on a public dataset — and then showed their work in a publicly available git repository.

“By finding design firms that can turn around a prototype in just a few weeks, user researchers that can survey users to provide information before an opening sprint, and developers that use open source code rather than reinventing the wheel, 18F will be able to turn projects around faster for our federal partners, saving time and taxpayer dollars, as well as creating products better focused on the end user,” GSA said in the release.

The BPA has a ceiling of $25 million over five years. 18F issued the request for proposals in June, planning to award places on the BPA to contractors, who will work only 18F projects. Later, 18F hopes to establish a second BPA for governmentwide agile services.

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GSA said it’s still evaluating other bids under the small business set-aside portions of the BPA — one for design and one for development.

The goal from the beginning was two-fold.

First, 18F wanted to take a different approach to awarding a contract, not basing it on long written qualifications, but actually having vendors show what they can do.

Second, 18F wanted an award process that didn’t take a year.

On the surface, the year-old organization seems like it met both goals for the full-and-open portion of the BPA.

GSA says 88 firms submitted proposals and time to award was less than 70 days.

“We were looking for design firms that could turn around a prototype in just a few weeks, user researchers that could survey users to provide information before an opening sprint, and developers that use open source code rather than ‘reinventing the wheel,’” 18F stated in the Q&A.

So what comes next for the BPA and awardees?

“First, they should soon expect to begin seeing opportunities to do what they do best: Deliver working solutions to government customers that showcase the ability of agile processes to transform the way we buy and build digital services,” 18F stated in the Q&A. “Second, they should expect to maintain an ongoing dialogue with us about what works and what doesn’t on a project-by-project basis. We view the vendor community as ‘users’ of the agile BPA, and their feedback, knowledge, and insight will help us continue to find ways to innovate and improve the acquisition process. Third, they should expect to see us continue to experiment with ways to improve the procurement process. Our end goal is to reduce the friction associated with doing business with the government. This allows delivery teams to focus on the end user experience, driving better solutions at lower costs.”

The question now is whether the unsuccessful bidders will protest, and if these agile concepts can move from burgeoning idea to fully institutionalized approach.

And, of course, if this BPA is successful, how long will other agencies wait until they start setting up their own contracts and create an entirely new proliferation of multiple award contracts.

This post is part of Jason Miller’s Inside the Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jason’s Notebook.