White House Would Curb Contracting Waste with Innovation Labs

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The Obama administration is rolling out a new weapon in the perennial battle against contract cost overruns and agencies taking delivery of instantly obsolete software.

Acquisition Innovation Labs, as announced on Wednesday by U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung, will “provide a pathway to test and implement more innovative approaches to acquisitions, with a strong emphasis on improving IT investments.”

Under the plan, each agency will appoint acquisition innovation advocates (AIAs) to promote testing of new ideas and better ways of executing existing practices in their agencies through managed risk-taking. Agencies will set up innovation labs “to promote meaningful collaboration through an integrated product team,” Rung said, and will participate in a new AIA Council to maximize collaboration across the government as well as share best practices and lessons learned.

The goal initially is to make information technology a “focus area,” and to start small and scale up over time to make the practices available to the larger workforce with vendor input, she said. Agencies are encouraged to apply for a new Digital Acquisition Innovation Lab pilot to help accelerate development of digital acquisition capabilities.

“The greatest catalyst for innovation is each agency’s willingness to embrace a culture that continuously encourages new ideas and finds better applications of existing practices,” Rung wrote. “Establishing Acquisition Innovation Labs governmentwide will play an increasingly important role in empowering and equipping agency employees to implement their promising ideas and foster a culture of innovation that leverages proven government and private-sector practices.”

The acquisition labs initiative builds on past pilots in delivering digital services, one at the Health and Human Services Department‘s office of the chief technology officer, which merged multiple legacy computer systems into a central Web content management system. Another at the Homeland Security Department chief procurement officer’s shop, Rung noted, “successfully applied a suite of best practices to cut procurement lead time by more than half for a competitively awarded, multi-million dollar contract for critically needed cyber security services for the Einstein” system, which helps agencies and the private sector detect and block cyberattacks.

The labs also build on the broader 2015 White House Strategy for American Innovation. The Obama administration’s past procurement reforms to instill “smart buying practices,” Rung said, have saved $2 billion.

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