Federal Acquisition Innovation Labs

The need for Federal Government IT support and solutions is extensive. In addition to increasingly complex networks and agendas to improve efficiencies, the public is demanding better security of information in light of high-profile thefts involving personal data. Agencies need to meet these IT security infrastructure needs and others, while the annual growth in Federal IT spending declines.

Efficiency initiatives are driven by the most recent White House strategy document, Strategy for American Innovation. This publication outlines ways to modernize the Federal Government through several objectives; structuring innovation labs, developing more effective Government digital services, and creating “innovation toolkits” to improve core processes and intra-agency problem solving capacity.

A recent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum from the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy requested agencies to ensure they implement an acquisition innovation lab with an emphasis on IT procurements. In addition, the memo highlights an innovation pilot program and advocates for agency participation.

Guidance for standing up an innovation lab is provided to agencies with the understanding that the most effective support for innovation is the development of a culture which encourages and rewards new ideas and practices. The following best practices are outlined:

Select an Advocate for the Innovation Lab

Each agency should designate an Acquisition Innovation Advocate (AIA) who will serve as the official to support the implementation of new ideas and process improvement. The identified AIA will also interact with OMB and other groups to share lessons learned.

Create an Acquisition Innovation Lab or Equivalent

Agencies need to ensure that an innovation lab or similar structure is in place. The type of organizational design is less important than the principles of the innovation program. Agencies should strive for implementation of innovation programs to include the following:

  • Collaboration – Cross-functional collaboration should be supported for a full-range of acquisition activities that affect the acquisition lifecycle; project definition, market research, planning and contract management. The product team including members of program, acquisition, IT, legal, finance and others should be integrated.
  • Focus on Information Technology – IT should be a priority to support The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. However, support should be provided as it is available for other acquisitions that are significant to the agency.
  • Quick Wins – Start with small projects that can be delivered in a 3 to 6 month timeframe. Use lessons learned to make enhancements and improve processes prior to scaling up to larger initiatives.
  • Do Not Require Lab Use – Communicate awareness of the innovation lab and encourage employees to make use of it, but do not require adoption.
  • Solicit Vendor Input – Gain insights from industry whenever possible.
  • Recognize Achievements – Promote innovative thinking by awarding behaviors that support revolutionizing the culture.

Examine Innovation Lab Pilot Participation

A pilot program is being initiated in which agencies may apply to participate. The program will provide selected agency cross-functional teams with coaching on digital service procurements for at least two acquisitions. The agency should identify acquisitions that are low to medium complexity, a high priority to the agency, address citizen or mission-critical functions and most likely require custom software development.

Coaching will be provided by the United States Digital Service (USDS), Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs) and General Services Administration’s (GSA) 18F Consulting. After pilot participation, agencies will then designate the cross-functional team as an internal agency resource to provide support for other integrated project teams; thus expanding capabilities.

Exchange Information with Other Agencies

Agencies are encouraged to share as much information as possible in order to facilitate Government-wide adoption of innovative practices. There are several avenues to support information-sharing and collaboration.

An Acquisition Innovation Advocates Council will be initiated by OMB for information sharing and project updates with USDS, PIFs and 18F Consulting. The Acquisition Gateway Innovation Hallway is the designated platform for agencies to post information regarding case studies and participate in developing Government-wide tools and resources. The goal of the Innovation Hallway is that it will become a single source for acquisition knowledge.

With the use of innovation labs and a culture which embraces new solutions, the Federal Government has an opportunity to deliver unprecedented IT services. Both agency processes and public-facing services have the potential to benefit exponentially as agency resources expand within the innovation lab structure.

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