Agile contracting craze is taking government by storm

DHS, EPA, 18F and others are developing separate contracts for dev/ops services, creating both a much needed culture change, but possibly also another area wher...

The Homeland Security Department and its components have jumped fully on the agile or dev/ops bandwagon. You could possibly blame Mark Schwartz, the chief information officer at the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, for his success in using this approach for both contracting and project management.

Or you could blame the Office of Management and Budget for its push to change the culture of government and stop the struggles of IT projects.

And, of course, it would be easy to blame industry for its recognition of the “next great IT advancement” for pushing DHS and almost every other agency toward the concept of iterative development. Let’s say the common refrain heard at so many conferences together, “If it’s good enough for Netflix, Uber and every other startup, then why not the federal government?”

So no matter who you blame, questions arise:

Has DHS, and really almost all of government, gone overboard with agile? Is the government heading down the same contracting rat hole it did with IT services where every agency and their brother and sister had an IT services contract, which cost agencies and vendors hundreds of millions of dollars to bid, protest and run?

And what can the Office of Federal Procurement Policy do to stop what could be an agile contracting craze?

Anne Rung, OFPP administrator, said in January that she would relook and possibly strengthen the requirement for agencies to submit business cases when developing new multiple award contracts. If the agile craze isn’t motivation enough, I’m not sure what is.

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Let’s just start with DHS as the prime example.

Along with CIS and its Flexible Agile Development Services (FADS) contract, which basically requires vendors to work together and compete on delivering capabilities on an iterative basis, DHS has at least two other large procurements focused on agile development.

DHS CIO Luke McCormack and Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa announced in May the development of an agencywide agile services contract called FLASH — Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland.

DHS, which held an industry day in June for FLASH, wants to create a multiple award contract for “agile design and development support services. The scope of this anticipated agency-wide vehicle will include concepts from the U.S. Digital Services Playbook such as user-centered design, dev-ops, automated testing and agile. This acquisition will be conducted under the auspices of the DHS Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL),” the agency stated in the notice of

Then there is the Transportation Security Administration, which also released a solicitation in June for agile service through the EAGLE II contract. TSA says the contract “will provide flexible agile services to accomplish a variety of information technology system and application integration, customization, and development projects across TSA.” The agency estimates the contract to be worth $50 million-to-$100 million over five years. Bids were due July 14 and an award is expected in early fiscal 2017.

So three large contracts from three separate components at DHS. Can someone say multiple award contract duplication and proliferation?

But wait there is more than just DHS. We know the General Services Administration’s 18F organization has plans to create multiple award governmentwide blanket purchase agreement for agile services. 18F currently is testing out a BPA that is for its internal use only.

Of course, significant portions of that BPA were stuck in protest purgatory and pools 1 (designers) and 2 (developers) — both for small businesses — have yet to be awarded nearly a year after 18F awarded contracts under Pool 3 (unrestricted design and development services) so the full test has yet to be conducted.

The thirst for agile is growing beyond 18F and DHS.

Agile Spending on the Rise
Bloomberg Government looked across 39 multiple award contracts for any reference to agile contracting. Below are results from five of the largest contracts that referenced agile spending.
contract 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 (YTD)
Alliant Small Business $10.2M $9.1M $27.8M $61.7M $42.5M
GSA Schedule 70 $63,531 $4.1M $11.6M $44.5M $2.6M
NIH CIO-SP3 small business $0 $0 $7.9M $27.8M $18.2M
DISA ENCORE II $1.6M $12.2M $15.1M $14M None reported
VA T4 $0 $0 $12.1M $17.1M $13.0M
Total spending (39 contracts) $22.7M $36.7M $125.8M $242.6M $161.6M
Five Year total $589.7M


GSA’s own Public Buildings Service awarded Unisys a two-year, $12.6 million contract last month to adopt a DevOps software development model under to encourage faster, more efficient and more reliable application development.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently held an industry day for its solicitation for agile services.

“This BPA is designed to enable us to do agile development and to simplify our purchasing process,” said Ann Dunkin, EPA’s chief information officer, during an interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “Our goal now is to really focus on having a vehicle so that when someone wants to do development, they can purchase a small or large number of sprints, and get to work really quickly. Our goal is actually a month from when they hand us a statement of objectives to the time when they have contracted work.”

Dunkin said through this agile contract, EPA will focus on modernizing its mission systems.

“We are really trying to move our programs to our enterprise platform. We want our regulated community to be able to come into one place to interact with EPA instead of the many places they go to now … so that they have one username, one password, one identity and they don’t have to constantly put the same information in all the time,” she said.

Then there is the  Labor Department. It issued a draft solicitation in mid-July for IT modernization services for its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. The goal is a single award contract for cloud-based approach using agile methodologies and modular development.

Labor stated it plans to issue the final solicitation on or about Aug. 15.

The craze for agile even is extending to the auditing community. ACT-IAC is putting together a panel to assist the Government Accountability Office in creating a guide to evaluate agile development services. The guide would help auditors familiarize themselves with common agile terminologies and practices, highlight challenges and define a general evaluation framework.

“This guide will emulate the GAO cost and schedule guides,” ACT-IAC said in a notice to its members looking for volunteers.

ACT-IAC said the first meeting is expected to be Aug. 31.

And as you can see from the Bloomberg Government data, the increase in contracts calling for agile is on the rise.

All of this evidence points to the acceptance of the iterative development process after years of agencies being stuck in the waterfall only mindset. That’s a good thing and a change that has been a long-time in coming.

But it also highlights the need — and the opportunity — for OFPP or GSA or someone to create a governmentwide contract for agile services in the near term and put an end to what looks to be a proliferation of one-off contracts that will end up costing the government and industry a lot more time and money than they need to expend.

The agile contracting craze is here, the last question is will it control agencies or will agencies control it?

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