Innovation is transforming government. Now it’s time to update tech procurement

The future success of government missions depends on having a resilient, diversified and reliable supplier base.

This week marks 50 years since Congress established the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the agency in charge of directing efficient, economic and effective purchases — from staplers to supercomputers — across the government. Since OFPP was created in 1974, we’ve seen monumental changes to the types of goods, services, and solutions used by the federal government, driven in part by the transformational technological advancements of the past few decades. Today, agencies rely on commercial technologies — including hardware, software, AI, cloud solutions, cybersecurity and many more – that simply didn’t exist 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, many of the policies dictating how the U.S. government can buy goods and services predate OFPP’s establishment and have not kept up with how private individuals and corporations buy and use the technology we rely on every day. This can potentially hinder agencies from accessing the most capable and most secure IT solutions at prices comparable to those paid outside of the public sector, potentially wasting taxpayer dollars. To ensure U.S. government agencies are prepared for the next 50 years and can meet today’s needs, government procurement must be improved.

Key leaders in Congress have the opportunity to address these challenges and advance important legislation that enhances the effectiveness of government purchasing for technology. The bipartisan Federal Improvement in Technology (FIT) Procurement Act, authored by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), tackles longstanding pain points in the federal technology acquisition process through targeted reforms, specialized training and much-needed purchasing authorities that bring U.S. procurement into the 21st century.

The FIT Procurement Act recognizes that purchasing technology is unique and must be treated as such. Importantly, the bill prioritizes IT procurement-specific training for the government’s acquisition workforce — something that is critically needed to ensure government buyers understand the complex technologies they are purchasing and can successfully get the best value solutions to meet their agencies’ requirements. This complements recent Executive Branch training reforms for contracting officers, including where tech-focused government buyers can now also receive a specialized credential in acquiring digital services.

The bill also recognizes that the way the government purchases technology must match how it is sold in the commercial marketplace. Increasingly, technology solutions, including cloud, are sold on a consumption basis — the charges are accrued based on actual usage or other metrics and then billed in arrears. Due to current government-unique appropriations laws and practices, however, government buyers are not able to take full advantage of these pricing models, which could limit the government’s ability to leverage the benefits of these innovative technologies. As a solution, the FIT Procurement Act provides government buyers with the flexibility they need to procure consumption-based solutions on par with the commercial sector, realize better value in IT, and save taxpayer dollars.

The future success of government missions depends on having a resilient, diversified and reliable supplier base. This includes creating pathways for more businesses to participate in government acquisitions and bring to bear the full range of private sector innovation for the government to better serve Americans, whether it’s at the post office or the Defense Department. The FIT Procurement Act aims to ensure access to federal contracting opportunities for businesses of all sizes, including new entrants to the federal marketplace. The measure doubles the simplified acquisition threshold and thus expands the universe of contract opportunities available to small and disadvantaged businesses, encourages government buyers to conduct more effective market research that prioritizes commercial capabilities, and creates public-private partnership opportunities for government and industry to identify and eradicate barriers to entry.

Collectively, the sound acquisition policy proposals advanced by the FIT Procurement Act will improve government technology acquisition processes today and will help ensure the federal government is well-equipped to leverage private sector innovation for generations to come. We urge lawmakers to advance this common-sense legislation.

Jason Oxman is president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.

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