Use of CSO acquisition procedures is ramping up quickly across federal agencies, a recent survey finds acquisition professionals don’t find innovation important to successful procurement, and 1,500 public organizations have signed new contracts to buy directly from Amazon. This is Public Spend Forum’s Weekly Roundup for July 20, 2018.
The use of Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) acquisition procedures to fast-track the acquisition of innovative technology is ramping up quickly across government. Two years after launching a CSO pilot program as part of Other Transaction prototyping efforts by its Defense Innovative Unit Experimental (DIUx), the Pentagon has begun rolling the concept out across the entire agency, according to a June 26 memo from Defense Procurement Director Shay Assad. The General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have also initiated their own CSO programs. GSA launched AAS Express to make GSA resources and contracts available to agencies conducting CSOs. DHS published CSO guidelines, setting the stage for its own CSO program.
The city of Atlanta, Denver public schools and the Mesa, Arizona, police department are among the 1,500 public organizations that since last year have signed new contracts to buy office supplies, books, even musical instruments directly from Amazon, according to a report released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit group that advocates for strong local economies. The contracts with Amazon could drive billions of dollars in public spending to the online giant in coming years, but risk penalizing independent retailers. “As public dollars shift to Amazon and away from local independent suppliers or even national chains with local stores, cities are undercutting their own local economies,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a co-author of the report. However, Amazon said its contract continues to support small businesses and supplier diversity.
The ninth biennial Acquisition Policy Survey, compiled by the Professional Services Council (PSC) and Grant Thornton Public Sector, found recurring challenges such as budget instability, hiring difficulties, and regulatory burdens were offset by improvements to the human quotient of the acquisition workforce. The survey covered five areas: workforce, budget, communication and collaboration, innovation, and oversight and compliance. In both cases, acquisition professionals were unenthusiastic about innovation, with fewer than half rating innovation as important to successful acquisitions. PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin said it may be because feds are confused about what innovation actually means. Yet, “The more we talk about innovation, the more agencies focus on refining what they’re looking for in innovation in process or outcomes,” he explained.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) will engage small businesses focusing on research and development on a National Road Tour. “The SBIR Road Tour continues to be a great way to discuss opportunities for innovative small businesses to engage on technology needs for the Homeland Security mission,” William Bryan, DHS senior official performing the duties of the under secretary for science and technology, said. Small businesses will have opportunities to learn about funding opportunities available through the SBIR and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Program representatives will highlight how small businesses can leverage funding to meet national security needs.
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