Driving Better Results through Acquisition Innovation labs

People congregating around a table having a meeting and writing on post-it notes

During the past two years, through various models, several agencies have focused on improving the acquisition of IT services given the extremely high failure rates, which are consistently plaguing the federal government. While the various approaches to address the critical needs, gaps, and problems associated with IT service acquisitions differ by agency, they’ve all been instrumental in the development of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) memorandum released today—Acquisition Innovation Labs & Pilot for Digital Acquisition Innovation Lab, which should serve as a catalyst for sustainable improvement.

The HHS Buyers Club has been front and center since April 2014, dissecting the various problems, developing unique solutions, and collaborating throughout HHS and across the federal government with successful results, lessons learned, and frequent feedback to address and resolve the problems at hand. While our office is housed within the IDEA Lab at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we educate employees across government about ways their agencies and offices can get involved.

We have a number of resources available to help guide those who are interested in learning more about implementing new acquisition strategies, including a series of use cases. These acquisition case studies illustrate how agility and flexibility, communication and collaboration, can produce remarkable strides in government innovation. We are excited to support the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) today as they announce a call to action for all government agencies to start their own in-house Buyers Clubs. Together, we can #hackredtape.

Below is a cross-post from the White House OMB Blog by Anne Rung, U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer.

Fostering a Culture of Innovation Across Government through Acquisition Innovation Labs

Summary: Today, we announced a new initiative to accelerate the establishment of Acquisition Innovation Labs in Federal agencies.

Since the start of this Administration, the President has taken a number of steps to enable the Government to deliver better results for the American people through the right combination of talent, innovative thinking, and technological tools. As a part of these efforts, today we announced a new initiative to accelerate the establishment of Acquisition Innovation Labs in Federal agencies. 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.

As a part of this initiative, agencies are expected to:

  • Appoint acquisition innovation advocates (AIAs) to promote testing of new ideas and better ways of executing existing practices in their agencies through managed risk-taking;
  • Ensure they have innovation labs, or similar mechanisms, to promote meaningful collaboration through an integrated product team; and
  • Participate in a new AIA Council to maximize collaboration across the government, and share best practices and lessons learned.

The acquisition innovation labs, or similar mechanisms, agencies stand up should make IT a focus area, start small and scale over time, be made available for use by the workforce at large, and seek vendor input. Moreover, as a part of this initiative, agencies are encouraged to apply for a new Digital Acquisition Innovation Lab pilot to help accelerate the development of digital acquisition capabilities.

This memorandum builds on past successes of establishing innovation labs within the Federal Government. For instance, 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. 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, multi-million dollar contract for critically needed cyber security services for the Einstein project.

This initiative also builds on past efforts to drive greater innovation in the Government’s acquisition activities, including:

  • A series of new measures outlined in the White House Strategy for American Innovation, such as the creation of digital service teams across Government to speed the adoption of private-sector best practices for designing, building, and deploying easy-to-use online services and the creation of an “innovation toolkit” to help increase the effectiveness and agility of the government;
  • A number of actions announced in December 2014 to create a more innovative, efficient, and effective acquisition system, including efforts to streamline and strengthen the Government’s procurement process through smart buying practicesresulting in nearly $2 billion in savings to date; and
  • The Digital IT Acquisition Professional (DITAP) Training and Development Program, where select contracting professionals across Government undergo an intensive six-month hands-on training program to learn how to buy IT software and systems development a better way.

The greatest catalyst for innovation is each agency’s willingness to embrace a culture that continuously encourages new ideas and finds better applications of existing practices. 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.