Congratulating our Challenge.gov winners

By Traci Walker

Our new class of Contracting Officers meeting in the Indian Treaty Room — welcome!

If you’ve spent any time reading about government technology, you’ve probably read an article or two about procurement.

At the United States Digital Service, we believe that if we can make the procurement process more efficient, we can help make citizen-government interaction that much better. (For more on this, check out Play 5 of the U.S. Digital Service Playbook.)

As a Contracting Officer at the U.S. Digital Service, I believe we need to reform the way we actually purchase IT goods and services. When tasked with figuring this out, we turned to the public for help.

In collaboration with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), we posted an ask on challenge.gov: help us design a program that will develop and produce Contracting Officers who can be successful in the era of digital government. This was the first challenge explicitly targeted at coaching and training procurement professionals on how to apply best practices from industry to the regulations and processes that government employees face.

We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but we found that there were plenty of talented and excited individuals out there ready to share their thoughts with us.


Why we designed this program:

My colleague Joanie Newhart (from OFPP) and I wanted to dogfood the process before we recommended it to others. By using challenge.gov, we were able to elicit feedback from a diverse group, ranging from the public to the private sector. We had three key goals in mind when we designed this program:

Practice: All Contracting Officers that complete this program will become digital service procurement experts.

Process: Contracting Officers will be equipped with the knowledge necessary to be imbedded within agency Digital Service teams to serve as a business advisor to the team, its customers, and its stakeholders.

Culture change: Contracting Officers will gain knowledge on how to influence their partners and allies within their agency and government by leading agency training, workshops, and consultations.

When judging submissions, we asked ourselves:

  1. How effective is the solution?
  2. How do we measure the knowledge gained by the Contracting Officers?
  3. Following the pilot, how feasible is this solution?

How we designed the program:

The group at orientation.

In order for contracting professionals to best understand how to successfully procure digital services, they have to understand what does and doesn’t work outside and inside of government. Our program had three phases:

Phase 1: Technical Concept

Interested parties had to submit a technical concept — we received 23 submissions from individuals, training companies, as well as large and small businesses. Based on specific criteria, we narrowed the pool to three submissions: GovLoop, Management Concepts, and Team ICF International & ASI Government.

Phase 2: Program Design

The three finalists presented their program design via oral presentations and a mock classroom session. All three finalists offered compelling approaches, detailed solutions, and creative uses of technology and agile instruction methodologies.

Ultimately, the judging panel selected Team ICF International and ASI Government as the winner to develop and pilot their program, which included customized learning paths, self-directed learning, guided learning, and a live digital assignment.

Phase 3: Pilot

Learning agile through Play-Doh exercises!

The six month pilot period began October 20, 2015; the concept will be tested with a cohort of 30 Contracting Officers representing several federal agencies. After the pilot period ends, we will turn over the program design to federal acquisition training institutions for implementation.

All participants will receive the first-ever Digital Service Contracting Officer Core-Plus Certification, establishing them as a pioneer in the field and an expert on digital services procurement.


So what happens next?

Hanging out with some of new Contracting Officers

This challenge is only the beginning of our efforts to develop digital service and IT expertise for contracting professionals, program managers, and other stakeholders. Stay tuned for what’s next!


Traci Walker is a Digital Services Expert working on procurement reform at USDS HQ.

Join Traci and others working to make our government work better for all: https://www.usds.gov/join