Perspectives on Procurement

This month the Peer Network has continued exploring opportunities to improve municipal IT procurement, convening a series of discussions and what we hope — with your help — will be one of the most comprehensive initiatives to map out the current state of local procurement.

Earlier in July, Mark Headd, Chief Data Officer for Philadelphia, shared some of his experiments in procurement innovation with other cities in the Peer Network including St. Paul, Minn.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Portland Ore. It’s no secret that acquiring government technology can often be a frustrating and confusing process for local governments and vendors alike. But Mark’s been taking steps to turn that around — experimenting with creative workarounds to the process like posting RFPs on GitHub and creating a central, startup-friendly portal that lists select opportunities to contract with the city. And though still early stage, the preliminary results have been promising. They’re getting more responses from a wider variety of qualified, local vendors. Watch below for the full video:

And for our last Municipal Innovation Call, the Peer Network was joined by Clay Johnson, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow and creator of ScreenDoor.  The call brought together a group of civic innovators from local government and the greater CfA community to discuss the various challenges and strategies for navigating the IT procurement process.

Clay Johnson knows there’s room for improvement. He noted an early experience from his time at the Sunlight Foundation that made a big impression: he and his team placed a bid on the RFP for Recovery.gov for $638,000 but the contract was awarded to a bid for 19 million dollars. This, he says, is a prime example of why technology procurement reform needs to be a high priority.

Participants from city governments including San Francisco; Asheville, N.C.; Anchorage, Ala.; and Houston joined the conversation. They brainstormed ideas for making government contracts easier to obtain and better equipping contracting officers to make decisions.

Another topic for thought was creating a platform for collaboration through which governments have a reusable library of RFPs. This would encourage a certain level of standardization in the language of RFPs as well as reducing the need to rewrite an RFP already available in a format that was successful in soliciting bids.

According to Clay, government must proactively cultivate relationships that will create a larger, more inclusive marketplace for government technology — and better procurement processes can be a ladder of engagement between small businesses and local government.

Throughout these discussions, we were continually reminded of the incredible variations in procurement policies between municipalities around the country. As we continue to explore opportunities for streamlining IT procurement, we need a fuller understanding of the constraints and concerns across the cities and counties we work with.

With the Sunlight Foundation and Omidyar Network, the Peer Network launched an exploratory research project to document current policies, workarounds, and best practices in local government IT procurement. If you’re a government official with knowledge about your local government’s procurement process or data, we want to hear from you — please take 10 minutes to fill out our Local Gov Procurement Survey. More than a dozen local governments have participated so far and the information they have provided will be instrumental in fully mapping out the current state of procurement policies at the local level.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.