FLASH winners want to salvage what's good from cancelled contract
When the Homeland Security Department cancelled the $1.5 billion FLASH procurement for Agile software development because of documentation and other problems, it was a devastating blow to the 11 small businesses that won spots on the vehicle.
Now many of those 11 have reached out to DHS in an attempt to salvage some of the good things they saw in the procurement.
They have written an open letter to Soraya Correa, DHS chief procurement officer, to say thank you and to encourage DHS to not abandon the innovative approach it took with FLASH.
DHS cancelled the FLASH contract after protests by losing bidders uncovered problems with how the procurement was run. Among those problems were evaluation documents altered after award, poor price evaluation reports, and issues with video quality of the technical challenge portion of the evaluation.
Faced with these problems, DHS cancelled the contract saying that requirements had changed so they need to start from scratch.
In the letter from the eight winning bidders, they do not point fingers or rehash the problems. In fact, the letter is quite positive. They are encouraging DHS to not abandon the approach they used with FLASH.
I spoke with Rahul Pandhi, managing member of LinkTec LLC, one of the signers of the letter. LinkTec is a joint venture formed by CollabraLink and Sevatec. Other signers include Navitas Business Consulting, Ad Hoc LLC, Innovations JV LLC, SemanticBits, STSI, Karsun Solutions, and SimonComputing.
Pandhi told me FLASH was a transformative contract for contractors and for government. DHS used what he called an Agile procurement process that relied on demonstrations and a technical challenge to make the award.
The government has used this approach on smaller contracts but never something on the scale of FLASH.
DHS asked for three-minute videos from bidders on their process to get initial feedback from DHS. There was little emphasis on written proposals. And the big one was the technical challenges DHS issued.
Pandhi explained to me that each bidder sent a technical team to DHS for a day. They were given a use case and then present their solution to DHS five or six hours later. This is where DHS got in trouble for the poor quality of its videotaping to capture and later evaluate how the individual teams performed.
The problem with the videotape quality could be fixed but there is nothing wrong with the technical challenge process DHS used, Pandhi said.
“It is a show me approach as opposed to a tell-me approach,” he said.
It also fits with the nature of software development. The traditional procurement process of submitting a lengthy technical proposal that can be up to 100 pages long works well for building something very tangible like a ship or plane.
“But that doesn’t match the model of software development,” he said.
A lengthy written technical proposal “doesn’t mean you can actually do it,” Pandhi said. “With the challenge you have to show them you can do it.”
The approach DHS used with FLASH also gives smaller businesses, which may not have the proposal writing skills and related infrastructure in place, a more level playing field to show the government their capabilities, he said.
After DHS cancelled the procurement, the winning bidders were beyond disappointed. “When news of the cancellation broke, we were shocked and disappointed, a ‘punch in the gut,’” they wrote to DHS.
But it wasn’t long before the companies began talking to each other, Pandhi said. And the would-be competitors decided to cooperate to encourage DHS and other agencies to embrace the FLASH procurement process and not abandon efforts to bring innovation to how the government buys.
“We all felt FLASH was a move in the right direction so how do we push the dialogue forward,” he said.
The letter is just a first step. What the group wants is to get a meeting with DHS to conduct what they call a “sprint retrospective.”
That is a play on the Agile development process that relies on short “sprints” to develop a product or feature. At the end of each sprint there is a retrospective meeting to discuss what went well, what didn’t, gather other feedback and decide how to improve going forward.
DHS’s reaction to the letter has been positive, so Pandhi said he is optimistic that a meeting will happen.
“It is incumbent on us as industry to collaborate with government to move forward on how best to get the work done,” he said.
The problems with FLASH can be corrected but the overall process was sound and the companies signing the letter don’t want that lost. They want more agencies across the government to use the FLASH approach.
“We don’t want the problems to stifle the momentum, we shouldn’t let that happen,” Pandhi said.
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 27, 2017 at 7:23 AM