18F site facilitates open-source bargain hunting

Earlier this year, the team at the General Services Administration's 18F piloted a radical idea: purchasing coding work using an agency credit card, rather than going through the whole solicitation process. The team got a lot more (less?) than they bargained for and have now created a new portal to continue the micro-purchasing experiment.

The idea itself was simple. Abiding by the federal acquisition regulation, 18F created an auction site to ask for help writing code for its CALC tool — an app that tracks pricing for contract labor categories — and started the bidding at $3,499, a dollar shy of the $3,500 limit for using payment cards.

There were some kinks in the process and no one expected the end result — not even 18F Director of Acquisition Management David Zvenyach, who initiated and managed the experiment — but it was generally considered a success, prompting the team to move forward with more projects.

"In some respects, this result was the best possible outcome for the experiment," Zvenyach said. "It proved that some of our core assumptions about how it would work were wrong. But the experiment also validated the core concept that open-source micro-purchasing can work and it's a thing we should try to do again."

"Our goal is to enable parts of our own agency and the rest of the federal government to use this platform to ask the developer community to create open source code for their project," 18F said in an email to companies that expressed interest in the original micro-purchase pilot. "We anticipate posting auctions for micro-purchase tasks throughout 2016."

The site doesn't have any opportunities posted just yet but the team says there will be projects up for bid within the next few weeks.

Bidders using the new site will still have to register with SAM and get a DUNS number to participate. The 18F team warns that this can take some time, so interested persons and companies should apply now if they haven't already.

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