The MGT Act and Agile Contracting. What's the connection?

With the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) underway to eliminate wasteful spending by placing Federal agency CIOs in control of IT investments, to the recent Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT Act) signed into law last December as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, it is even more important to plan the right way for IT acquisitions.

The purpose of the MGT Act is to:

  • Assist the Federal Government in modernizing Federal information technology to mitigate current operational and security risks.
  • Incentivize cost savings in Federal information technology through modernization.
  • Accelerate the acquisition and deployment of modernized information technology solutions, such as cloud computing, by addressing impediments in the areas of funding, development, and acquisition practices.

While agencies grapple with how to begin efforts related to the MGT Act, key to the success of modernization projects is the approach contracting professionals may want to take in structuring the acquisition activities.  Both FITARA and the MGT Act will require a shift in how the government procures goods and services.  Contracting professionals may want to explore, and in some cases, may be highly encouraged to employ agile contracting techniques.  Since contracting is about mitigating risks and agile is not without risks, how can contracting professionals feel comfortable and empowered to try agile contracting methods?  Here are three things to keep in mind.

1) Get the right team in place.

OMB’s A-11 Circular, Part 7, advises that agencies/departments’ Integrated Project Teams (IPTs):

“should be cross-functional, as necessary, to accomplish the various tasks of the project. The members should reflect the user community, project’s stakeholders, and should have a core knowledge of the project management, value management, budget, finance, sustainable design, and procurement.”

This means that the IPT must include acquisition expertise as way to support the project’s successful outcome and completion of defined deliverables.  Collaboration between the project team (i.e., project management staff, contractor, and project stakeholders) is crucial to the success of any IT project.

Agile teams are composed of members from different but complimentary skill sets. An IPT can be an agile acquisition team since it already includes experts in project management, budgeting, contracting, and acquisition. One very important benefit to constructing mixed-composite skill teams (as opposed to a team of specialists) is that it can result in:

  • Increased opportunities for collaboration
  • The ability to flexibly allocate and reallocate tasks as needed
  • Lower overall risk since agile team members share artifacts, and work together to evolve the artifacts as needed
  • Increased team efficiency through reduced bottlenecks, as tasks that might have piled up awaiting a specialist’s input can move through the queue unimpeded

2) Know that you can do it.

The FAR is both permissive/innovative in its direction of government acquisitions as shown in the FAR Subpart 1.102(d):

“The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs. In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.”

Thus, acquisition team members are encouraged by the FAR to be both innovative and permissive under these regulations.   

3) Consult resources.

Historically, a narrow interpretation of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is one reason that Federal projects often fall short of their goals. In an attempt to improve digital services delivery, the Administration released the TechFAR Handbook for Procuring Digital Services Using Agile Processes and the Digital Services Playbook. Together, these guides provide agencies with the information necessary to deliver services more efficiently through the use of agile methodologies.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) is currently undertaking the activity of developing an Agile and Agile/Scrum practice manual that will provide government agencies/departments with a set of acceptable practices for the design, development and deployment of primarily IT projects based on the utilization of adaptive development methodologies. The GAO Agile Practice Manual will be completed in the near future.  There is no release date set, but you can check the progress on GAO’s blog.   

4) How can you better prepare to support your agency’s IT acquisition needs?

When an agency or department seeks to support the use of more adaptive IT project development methodologies, such as Agile, Scrum, XP, or Lean, the acquisition activities of the government entity will need to modify its acquisition policy, processes, and procedures in order to support these more flexible methodologies.

Management Concepts can help you champion agile contracting methods to achieve successful contract outcomes—check out our upcoming scheduled classes!

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