Federal Procurement Innovation Through “Micro-Consulting”

I was thinking about an article written by Dr. Steve Kelman on FCW a few years ago on how to improve opportunities for small businesses, and also allow for rapid acquisition processes for very targeted problems (i.e. innovative procurement methods) outside of Other Transaction Authority (OTA), and other authorities and procurement flexibilities that most agencies lack.

This approach, known as “micro-consulting”, focuses on targeted initiatives providing services at or below the micro-purchase threshold. As described in the article, this is the business model of Chris Cairns, one of the co-founders of 18F, and who started a firm called Skylight.

In announcing the creation of his firm, the post announced:

…Not every problem requires a full-blown consulting engagement. Often times, a short burst of work on a specific topic is all that’s needed to help propel government managers and teams forward. That’s why we’re introducing digital consulting services priced within the federal micro-purchase thresholds… 

This model seems to make sense on many fronts, across the entire spectrum of federal government. Take requirements development for example, one of the most critical issues that often leads to program failures.

Perhaps it is time to rethink this model, as it is a good way to execute modular contracting techniques similar to the Pilot IRS program at IRS.

Micro-consulting was mentioned in the past by Gen. John Michael Loh (ret.), who recently lamented on the bureaucratic, non-value added defense procurement process.

Gen. Loh stated:

…We need to learn from the past and get back to basics in the acquisition system starting with the requirements process. From the start of the F-15 and F-16 programs in the early 70s through the F-22 start in the late 80s, concept development began with small, smart teams working together from the operating and developing commands; understanding the need; conducting trade-off analyses to assess risk and cost, in continuous dialogue, producing a requirements document unfettered by top-down micromanagement or wall-to-wall reviews and nitpicking…

What if these teams can have very targeted engagements from experts in the field on particular topics, such as cyber, cloud, logistics, etc? What if the process was able to be turned on its head, and instead of contracting out for a typical engagement of years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and questionable results, you simply purchase exactly what you need, very quickly, cheaply, and with targeted results? 

This process could open the door to many entities, consultants, and start-ups that have what the government needs, but can not be at the table because of the barriers to entry, for starters. Small businesses would have expanded opportunities for introducing innovation, risks could be taken, and experimentation can be more readily conducted. 

Firms can build past performance, and perhaps even be rated on an Amazon-like scale. Engagements can be purchased with days, and provide input and value in a short-time frame, as needed. Raising the micro-purchase threshold to $50,000, or maybe even up to $100,000, would further expand the opportunities for these types of engagements. 

This is a very interesting way to expand innovation in federal buying, lower barriers to entry, expand the base of contractors, lower administrative costs dramatically, and also add value immediately. For agencies that do not have OTAs, or other authorities for rapid procurement, I hope this initiative can have a disruptive effect on federal procurement.

It can be a win-win for both parties. So why not give it a try?

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