Tom Temin We’re with Kristina Botelho. She’s a contracting officer with the Air Force and part of the agile contracting community of practice. All right. Let’s start with the basic definition. What is agile contracting?
Kristina Botelho So for me, it’s it’s a lot of different things depending on what you’re doing. I think I first employed it when we were standing up Kessel Run. We use the agile contracting methods under [Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)] Part 39 to do modular contracting. So those are smaller pieces of a contract so that if you do start to fail at something, you quickly recover and move on to something else. It’s resource intensive, so you don’t see it applied as much as it could be, but it was the best method for Kessel Run when we were standing it up.
Tom Temin And just remind us, Kessel Run is the agile development factory that was operated by the Air Force?
Kristina Botelho Yes, it was one of the first software factories, stood up back in 2017. I was one of the original contracting officers that helped the team stand that up.
Tom Temin Right. And you said that it’s resource intensive, this idea of agile. What does that mean?
Kristina Botelho So when you’re doing modular type contracts, you’re doing a lot of smaller contracts, which means you have a lot more contracts that you have to manage. So any time there’s modifications or changes, you have to do it to all the contracts and it’s just more oversight and more labor intensive.
Tom Temin And how does it differ, say, from task orders?
Kristina Botelho So it’s not different entirely. You can use task orders to modular contract. Modular contracting is just a method of breaking down requirements into smaller increments so that you can fail fast and move on. You can use task orders. You can do FAR Part 13 simplified acquisition procedures. You can do it using [other transactions (OTs)], I suppose.
Tom Temin Other transactions. Right. But let me ask you this: Why can’t you just set up a contract, as you would for a big waterfall development project? Only have a project, or rather a clause in there that says ‘we can stop and change those at any time.’
Kristina Botelho Well, technically speaking, we can put a stop work order on things any time. But then officially, when working with larger primes, they have just as much bureaucracy as we do. So when you do things like that, it could end up costing the government a lot more money and delay things even longer because now you’re working out those things. What stopped work and what’s being changed in your repricing?
Tom Temin So essentially you want your contracts to match your agile scrums, right?
Kristina Botelho Yeah. Exactly.
Tom Temin And if it’s not so good then you kill it and go on to the next thing instead.
Kristina Botelho Yeah. Of course your program office has to not be afraid to fail.
Tom Temin So people have to be on board.
Kristina Botelho Yes. Now, yeah, it took a while, but we got people on board.
Tom Temin Now you’re part of the agile contracting community of practice. Who’s in it? How does it work? How do you meet? Is it virtual?
Kristina Botelho It’s really a community of like-minded contracting professionals working in the Air Force. I’m also part of Rapid X, which is similar to the agile community. It’s just contracting professionals that work with agile methods and they share those experiences, lessons learned. I provide training to Air Force base contracting units all around the Air Force on [Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)], agile contracting methods and really anything that they need help with.
Tom Temin Yeah. What are some of the big detail practices, if you’re constantly, say, turning down, turning off contracts, developing new ones to match your scrum work?
Kristina Botelho Yeah.
Tom Temin Tell us how that works in some detail.
Kristina Botelho So you really have to work through. If you’re doing that, you’re in a constant state of competition. You want to really get your evaluation criteria down pat. Keep the same evaluators in place who know how to quickly document things. One of the things we did was oral presentations, and we had the warrior in the room, and then we documented, had that evaluation done the same day as the presentation. So there wasn’t a lot of back and forth consensus that you see with typical FAR part 15 big source selection.
Tom Temin Right. So this could involve multiple contractors in one overall development effort. And so you’re competing the agile pieces of it. So they have to be kind of agile developers in the first place to be in on it.
Kristina Botelho Absolutely. Yeah.
Tom Temin So if they’re like a big commercial waterfall type of deal, that doesn’t work too well.
Kristina Botelho It makes them uncomfortable. But a couple of divisions of the big primes have gotten on board. So there’s help.
Tom Temin Yeah. All right. We’re speaking with Kristina Botelho. She is a contracting officer with the Air Force and a member of the agile contracting community. Give us some examples of projects where this has happened.
Kristina Botelho So Kessel Run is the first example. We stood up the very first software factory using unique agile methods that were all in accordance with policies. It was just a different way of applying them. So it really helped us move very fast. We at one point we did RFP to award in 48 hours for one of our actions. So everything’s out there that you need to go fast. It’s really about education and understanding how to apply the different rules and regulations that are out there. We do a lot in Agility Prime, so I focus on some of their more advanced technologies under Agility Prime. We issue RFPs that go out with two-week turnarounds and we’re able to get those awarded within two weeks after receipt. Those are smaller actions, so it doesn’t require a lot of coordination, but if you keep them smaller, then you can move a lot faster.
Tom Temin Now there’s an old saying in software: You can have better, cheaper, faster — pick any two. Would you say that flexible, agile contracting reduces time most of all, gets better results or is less expensive for the government? You don’t have to pick two.
Kristina Botelho Less expensive would be my third. I don’t think that we’re overpaying on what we’re doing by breaking it down into modular contracts, but getting the lowest price is our least concern. We’re more concerned about quality and timeliness. If we want to get it out to the warfighter, we want it to be meaningful to them, not three years down the line and it’s something they don’t even really need anymore.
Tom Temin And I’m curious, can this apply to, do you think, platform development? Or hardware types of projects? I mean, there’s a lot of fairly mature, fairly immature, haven’t-left-the-ground-yet types of developments going on in the Air Force. Does this have any applicability to fighters, bombers, missiles?
Kristina Botelho So I am doing some work with Global Strike Command and there is some application to it. But of course everyone’s scared to go big. So they start with small increments and they integrate them into their the bigger systems. And I think we’re going to see that moving forward. I don’t know that anyone has the appetite to break down the F-35 and pass it out. I don’t think it’d be a horrible idea to give it a try at the next one, but I don’t think we’re going to see that.
Tom Temin So it could maybe apply to a subsystem like, say, we need a better elevator here to raise this wheel to this point, or this bomb rack from A to B to folded or unfolded. That type of thing, a subsystem.
Kristina Botelho Yeah. There’s absolutely room for improvement. The big defense primes, they’re great at what they do, but they don’t do everything. So when we can bring in those companies, those smaller ones that specialize in these unique advanced technologies, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t take their technology and integrate it into the bigger defense problem ourselves.
Tom Temin Like this could eventually be integrated with that idea of digital design?
Kristina Botelho Yeah, digital engineering and twinning. Yeah. So I’m a contracting officer, so I’m not as technically savvy, but I try to get a layman’s understanding and I’ve been seeing a lot of the digital twins and I’m pretty excited about it. It could be a huge cost savings for the government if we really are able to fully adopt that.
Tom Temin That leads to another question: You are a contracting officer. There’s that person called the contracting officer’s representative. What’s their role and how does that change in agile contracting?
Kristina Botelho So it becomes a lot for them as well. There’s a lot more oversight involved here, watching their performance and making sure that things are getting done on a much smaller timeline. So you’re in constant surveillance mode versus checking on that monthly and looking at invoices. Contracting officer representatives that I’ve worked with, they focus on quality and performance, overseeing the work that’s getting accomplished and then other admin stuff like time cards and things of that nature depending on the contract type.
Tom Temin So things can change in federal contracting.
Kristina Botelho Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Tom Temin All right. We’ll end it there. Kristina Botelho is contracting officer with the Air Force and a member of the agile contracting community, flexible contracting community. Thanks so much.