Agile Contracting is on the Horizon

March 16, 2015
By Suzanne Petrie Liscouski

We all appreciate and value the opportunities to hear from government. The AFCEA Homeland Security Conference afforded industry and government officials alike the chance to talk and share ideas. One topic of conversation piqued my interest that I think will resonate with both industry and government.

I was excited to hear Luke McCormack, chief information officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), discuss agile principles in procurement. His insight was hand-in-hand with recent remarks by Soraya Correa, the DHS’ chief procurement officer. Given their convergence, we are at the point now where industry knows where the DHS is heading regarding an agile framework, both on the program side and procurement side. McCormack discussed U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s existing adoption of agile development and recognized Mark Schwartz for spearheading a major push in this direction at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He also noted that Transportation Security Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency are examining the agile approach.  

These are exciting times.

The Move to Agile Contracting

McCormack said he strives to tie metrics to program goals; goals including successes with agile development and agile operations and maintenance. Procurement now is looking at best practices that can introduce agile into their framework. Traditionally, this has been difficult, but initiatives such as the TechFAR Handbook and Digital Services Playbook provide guidance and momentum for federal acquisition of digital services using agile processes.

Some agile methods would let government procurements be more flexible to dynamic user requirements. The methods can reduce risk by accommodating shorter, iterative sprints rather than depending on one behemoth contract deliverable.

Now What?

It is very encouraging to hear McCormack say he is going to double down on industry engagement. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said. As a member of industry, I’m looking forward to partnering with the DHS and introducing them to best practices that can make agile models successful in procurement and program execution. Through partnerships, industry can innovate and implement these practices toward efficient delivery of services.

It Boils Down to Cooperation

The DHS bases many decisions on risk; agile methodologies afford an opportunity to better succeed in the DHS’ dynamic environment. Industry and government need to up the ante on dialog regarding agile frameworks. If we don’t, we could be pigeonholed in an environment with little hope for innovation and cost savings over time.

Suzanne Petrie Liscouski is the vice president of federal civilian agencies for NCI Inc.  She’s a former director at the DHS’ Office of Policy.

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Great commentary here on the need for contracting to be more agile. At the end of the day it's all about mission and getting technology into the hands of those who need it more quickly and effectively. I had written an op-ed last year in FCW about this issue, recognizing that even though the FAR is rightly a rules-based process there is flexibility there to do what needs to be done and the TechFar and digital services playbook are moving us in that direction. Glad to see DHS is recognizing this as well.

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