Our Federal Government spends a lot of money. I mean, a lot of money. And with that money, they purchase many goods and services. Increasingly, many of those purchases have intersected with technology: technology that makes existing products more efficient, solutions for new and existing problems, new infrastructure to help the government manage its processes, and so on. In fact, the government buys so much stuff, whole industries (yes, plural) have been built with the singular goal of selling to the government. While these processes and industries are largely pretty boring, every once in a while something happens, the system stops functioning properly, and it becomes news.
That is exactly what happened with the mangled rollout of the much-maligned healthcare.gov website late last year.
Among the many problems uncovered by the process, we realized that those systems in place to spend the aforementioned sums of money are not always best at finding the most efficient projects, programs, and services to buy. In fact, healthcare.gov was just latest high-profile example of the problem. Many, if not most, of the issues faced in federal government procurement are situated squarely in the fact that these laws and regulations represent a different time, and have been made archaic by advances in technology.
Stepping into that breach with an innovative solution of her own is Silicon Valley’s own representative, Anna G. Eshoo. The Democratic Congresswoman, a longtime supporter of the technologies that lead the world from her home district, today introduced the Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology (or, RFP-IT) Act which seeks to make these processes more open, easier to navigate, and more accessible to startup companies looking to sell to the Federal Government.
The bill, co-sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of Rep. Eshoo’s House colleagues, has three specific goals. First, it will enhance competition in the marketplace by enabling more small businesses to bid on federal IT contracts without having to spend thousands on compliance costs by lifting the threshold for a streamlined contracting process from $150,000 to $500,000. According to Eshoo’s summary of the bill, “expanding the use of simplified acquisition procedures will shorten procurement lead times and help level the playing field for start-ups and small businesses – a critical factor in an IT marketplace that is characterized by the constant influx of new entrants and rapidly evolving IT products and services.”
Second, the bill takes a number of steps to promote innovation, including codifying the popular Presidential Innovation Fellows program, and asking the General Services Administration to recommend how to slim-down certain procedures.
Finally, the bill moves to ensure more accountability by establishing a Digital Government Office within the Office of Management and Budget, strengthening the existing CIO office in the White House and improving transparency and oversight.
You can read the full text of the (very short!) bill here. We thank Rep. Eshoo and her colleagues for highlighting one of the ways our government functions, and working to bring more efficiency and innovation into the process.