Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Improving Transparency in Federal Government May Improve Innovation

A while back, Nick Wakeman, of Washington Technology, went on a self-described “rant” about the lack of transparency in awarding task orders on certain contract vehicles. 

Allow me to continue the rant.

One only needs to do a cursory review of the Interagency Contract Directory (contractdirectory.gov) to see the enormous amount of contract vehicles across government. By applying a layer of data analysis on top of it, a frustrating pattern emerges at the lack of information available on awards off of these vehicles, or information on the vehicles to begin with.

According to the website:

…The main purpose of ICD is to help agencies take advantage of interagency contracts by supporting market research and the identification of suitable contracts that can facilitate the efficient and effective placement of orders, including with small and disadvantaged businesses. The new ICD will strengthen both of these goals by making the tool more intuitive and easier to use… 

As Nick mentioned is his blog:

…This task order is worth $224.4 million. That’s nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. This is a big deal. Why keep it hidden?...

Why indeed. 

I agree wholeheartedly with Nick that transparency into larger awards should be mandatory, as there simply is too much secrecy with the amount of money flowing through all the contract vehicles across government. Perhaps the $10 million threshold Nick mentions might be a good start. I know many small businesses spend countless hours trying to find out information about these activities, with little success unless you have some insider knowledge. 

As Nick mentions, disclosure would not only bring more transparency to the process, but valuable data can be another component to offer small businesses an important pathway to opportunities which are currently closed. 

However, I also want to take transparency a step further in the pre-solicitation phase, by finally allowing some transparency to shine on responses to sources sought notices across government. 

One of the main issues here is that procurement personnel often complain about the poor responses, or lack of responses, by small businesses. Granted there is very little review of why this might be occurring, but perhaps another data point on Fedbizopps.gov might be something to explore.

Currently, firms can list themselves as an “interested party”, and appear under the tab labeled Interested Vendors List. What if we took this a step further, eliminated the Interested Vendors List, and actually created a way to show firms that have actually responded, and create a tab with this data called “Respondents”?

This would eliminate many of the firms that are simply fishing or unqualified, unscrupulous legal firms who are “experts in protests” advertising on these notices, scammers and spammers, and provide real data on who is responding and their capabilities. 

I know I always wonder: 

  • Whatever happened to my response?
  • Was it received?
  • Is there any opportunity for follow up?
  • Who I might team with?
  • What were the results?

Perhaps with this data, small businesses can find more opportunities to find teaming partners, and for firms to find complementary solutions to improve service delivery and performance. 

Of course this would all need to be automated, as the last thing we want, or need to do, is put further burdens on the acquisition workforce. 

Transparency is always a good thing to improve competition, opportunities for small businesses, and procurement outcomes. Let’s open the curtains and see what is possible.

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