Federal CIO Wants to Change How Government Accepts Unsolicited Ideas

Federal CIO Tony Scott

Federal CIO Tony Scott Susan Walsh/AP

The traditional processes that have dictated how the government buys technology have likely kept it from implementing a smorgasbord of ideas, Tony Scott says.

In what may be his last few months as the U.S. chief information officer – because of the coming administration change – Tony Scott said he’ll allot time trying to improve how the federal government accepts unsolicited ideas from industry.

Government largely buys its goods and services through existing contract vehicles or through requests for proposals to industry, which are governed by extensive legal framework including Federal Acquisition Regulation.

But Scott said the traditional processes that have dictated how the government buys technology have likely kept it from implementing a smorgasbord of ideas.

“We don’t have a good mechanism for unsolicited proposals,” said Scott, speaking Thursday at the Palo Alto Networks Federal Forum in Washington, D.C. “It’s not in a supplier’s interest in most cases to give us an unsolicited proposal. We have a process that ultimately discourages that, and I think it keeps some of the best ideas from being proposed and ultimately getting implemented.”

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Scott, who formerly held CIO positions with VMware and Microsoft before President Barack Obama called him to public service in early 2015, said he relied heavily on unsolicited proposals during his time in the private sector.

“Some of best ideas I got came from unsolicited proposals from suppliers and buyers without us having to do an RFP [request for proposals],” Scott said. “One of the things I want to work on in the time I have left is figure out how to get more creative juices or proposals going while maintaining a competitive landscape.”

Those remark will certainly pique the interest of the Beltway contracting community, which owns a lion’s share of the federal government’s $89 billion IT budget. While Scott’s office has not released any formal policy around unsolicited proposals, he offered advice to industry as perhaps one of the most-pitched people in government.

Ideas are plentiful, he said, but ideas with accompanying action plans are much more valued.

“Ideas are cheap in Washington, an implementation plan isn’t so cheap,” Scott said.

In other words, if you talk the talk of unsolicited proposals to government, bring a glimpse of the walk, too.