Procurement documents show why IT reform won’t be easy

Recent experiences of Interior and HUD illustrate the challenges agencies face.

Two solicitation documents posted yesterday demonstrate how difficult information technology acquisition reform -- a top priority for both the White House and Congress -- can be.

The first, for cloud hosting services at the Interior Department, has been a regular on FedBizOpps, the government’s contracting website, for months. The request for proposal dropped July 18. By August 27 the department had received 474 questions from vendors about the solicitation. Rather than respond to those questions one by one, Interior opted to re-issue the RFP multiple times until all the concerns had been dealt with. What may be the final set of clarification came out Wednesday.

Questions from vendors are to be expected with any complex solicitation. Nearly 500 questions, however, might suggest some basic miscommunication between acquisitions staff, IT staff and vendors.

It’s also possible Interior, which has a painful history with cloud solicitations, simply went overboard with legal language that ended up causing more confusion than clarity.

The second document comes from the Housing and Urban Development Department, which is considering numerous upgrades to its IT infrastructure to comply with White House mandates related to cloud computing and other areas. The request for information is essentially 37 open-ended questions for industry about how HUD should tackle everything from data center consolidation to software as a service to cybersecurity monitoring. 

Open-ended RFIs are also common but it’s rare that agencies throw so many questions into the kitty all at once, essentially asking: “hey, industry, what do you want to tell us?” It will be interesting to see whether HUD’s brand of front-end communication with industry can mitigate the midpoint confusion Interior has been struggling through.