Signs of Innovation at RFP-EZ

Rapid fire exchanges with the public and willingness to take some security risks are among the promising developments.

Radically reforming how government operates is a tall order. Plenty of projects have worn the mantle of innovation but fallen into the same old bureaucratic traps.

The five intern-run projects collected under federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park’s Presidential Innovation Fellows program may yet end up in that category, but there are a few signs in these Govloop updates from Project RFP-EZ that this is far from business as usual.

  1. An update posted via Dropbox, the document sharing site, which many government agencies tell employees to steer clear of because of security concerns. The implication: we’ll let security dictate some things but not everything.
  2. Updates written by the technologists themselves engaged in a rapid fire exchange with the public.  Documents that have gone through significant review typically expunge sections that describe “much of” contracting officers’ work as “tedious and monotonous.” The implication: The fellows may be sometimes impolitic but, they’re addressing a specific problem head on.
  3. A plan to work directly with “innovative web development firms [that] are interested in contracting with the federal government, yet have been dissuaded from it in the past because the barrier to entry was too high.” Communication between government and industry is nothing new, but it’s rare that it happens so informally and at street level. This often is because of a fear on the government side that the wrong word could be a violation of contracting law.

Building a more effective and efficient system for small software contracts is just the first step, of course. The project’s success will be wholly dependent on whether contracting officers actually adopt the new system. It looks, though, as if they may have something genuinely new to consider.