The Department of Health and Human Services has adjusted its approach to technology acquisition in order to keep pace in innovation.

In a moment when agencies across the government are grappling with how to adjust their acquisition framework to ensure they have the most advanced technology, HHS CIO Jose Arrieta said his agency has decided to approach acquisition by laying out its objectives first.

“We establish the way we want to interact and work with the contractor,” Arrieta said Oct. 30 at the Data Coalition’s GovDATAx conference.

Another key to the HHS approach has been taking “price off the table” and setting maximum awards ceilings for contractors. Then, the contractors can compete for the work.

HHS has been a leader in federal government in deployment of emerging technologies. Arrieta, who has been in the job since May, is trying to implement several innovative programs that include neural networks, blockchain and artificial intelligence. So far, he said, the acquisition approach is working, but he said it can be “very stressful” both for acquisition professionals and program managers.

“You’re managing live execution on the basis of a series of objectives instead of specific requirements,” said Arrieta, who added he’s not afraid of failure, so long as it’s quick.

Quicker acquisition is a priority for many agencies in the government. At the Department of Defense, acquisition officials are often using other transaction authorities to acquire emerging tech faster.

“The incumbent procurement models for infrastructure don’t necessarily enable agencies to take advantage and keep up with the pace of technology development,” said Arti Garg, emerging market and technology director at Cray.

Whether it’s data, cybersecurity or acquisition, government officials have continuously talked recently about the need for the cultural shifts in agencies in terms of how work in completed. HHS approach to procurement is no different.

“There needs to be preparation for the acquisition workforce. This is a much different way of doing business than they’re used to,” Arrieta said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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