How the US is driving innovation throughout public procurement

27 April 2023

Innovative procurement approaches have allowed US government agencies to break down silos and deliver cost savings, according to a report. 

The report, Collaborate to Innovate: Four Pillars of Federal Procurement Transformation, identified innovative procurement approaches across US government agencies, and said “collaboration can transform procurement, and procurement innovation can lead to more equitable, effective digital government service delivery”. 

Wider government departments should learn from such innovative approaches, and the report said modernising procurement efforts will help to support the US government’s “most critical priorities”. 

Polly Hall, senior advisor to the chief of procurement at the Department of Homeland Security and member of the Partnership’s Federal Innovation Council said innovative procurement can “deliver more effective services and better outcomes to the public”.

“The federal acquisition community supports some of government's most critical priorities—from advancing racial equity and modernising our infrastructure to addressing climate change. To deliver on these priorities, federal leaders and agencies need to develop new ways for government to procure the goods and services it needs.”

She said government goals “cannot be enabled” without procurement, “so us getting it right really does matter”. 

“We have definitively made great strides. And I think all the strides that we’ve made show us that there is so much more opportunity,” Hall said.

The Partnership highlighted four instances of agencies modernising their procurement effort through increased collaboration:

1. Collaboration internally

The US Digital Service (USDS) views procurement as an “interdisciplinary project”, the report explained. 

In a typical federal agency, the product and procurement teams work in silos, with procurement coming in last on a project. However, the USDS sees product, engineering and design teams collaborate throughout a project, allowing the agency to break down these silos, navigate regulations and manage external partners more effectively.

USDS acquisition strategist Camille Hogan said this has allowed procurement to plan ahead as much as possible. “The magic happens when we’re able to break down disciplinary silos,” she said. 

The USDS said its “unified team approach” helped the agency to “save time, reduce risk, procure more sustainable products, and deliver accessible digital services more quickly”.

2. Collaboration across agencies

The Department of Homeland Security’s CPO established the Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) in 2015 to test new processes which aimed to improve ineffective, inefficient procurement conventions. 

The PIL aims to refine best practices and share insights with the federal acquisition community, by targeting innovations that lower barriers to entry, increase competition, improve mission outcomes, and shorten the time it takes to award contracts.

The PIL gives procurement professionals a “safe space to come and try new ways of doing business,” said Hall, by providing tools and training in procurement innovation. “An innovation mindset and creative thinking about solutions are now becoming part of our culture.”

The PIL reported the 20 projects it supported in the fiscal year 2022 resulted in cumulative cost savings of $814m.

3. Collaboration with the public

The Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section is using tech consultancies to help it develop a “people-focused” procurement system. 

The consultancy, 18F, ensured constant feedback from their website users throughout the process of procuring a new provider, and so was able to prioritise “accessibility, simplicity, plain language and real people”.

4. Collaboration with industry

NASA’s recently-launched NASA Acquisition Innovation Launchpad (NAIL) aims to promote industry collaboration and strengthen programme management practices in procurement. 

NAIL will bring together NASA’s program managers, acquisition professionals, engineers and researchers. It will identify innovation in transformational commercial business practices, modernised data analytics, advanced technologies for decision making, smart program management techniques and organisational change.

NASA director of the enterprise service and analysis division Geoffrey Sage said: “Previously, something may have happened at one centre and stayed within those four walls.” However, NAIL is enabling centres to better share experiments and learnings.

Karla Smith Jackson, assistant administrator for procurement at NASA, said: “We couldn’t have gotten to the moon in the 60s if we didn’t have all those industry partners with us. It was a joint effort, and we haven’t forgotten that. Collaboration is at the core of NASA.”

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