Digital Service Contracting Professional Training and Development Program
Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
In 2014, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) set out to transform the way the federal government buys technology to support improved digital experiences for citizens. As a first step, they turned to Challenge.gov and ran a prize competition that produced a pilot training program and the first-ever digital certification for federal contracting officers. The open-source curriculum continues to evolve to educate digital procurement pioneers across the federal government.
Digital technology has transformed all aspects of society, including government. Federal agencies must adapt and change the way they serve members of the public who increasingly demand and require digital services.
But technological changes happen at a breakneck pace, and federal procurement practices don’t always provide the flexibility required to buy and deliver modern digital services.
In 2014, USDS was established to help improve interactions between citizens and their government. A crucial part of this mission is reshaping how government purchases IT goods and services. OFPP, in conjunction with the release of the Digital Services Playbook, also launched the TechFAR Handbook which described the flexibilities that exist in the FAR specific to implementing digital service strategies.
Strengthening digital expertise in the government and simplifying the digital experiences that citizens and businesses have with government can reduce the risk of failed acquisitions and save taxpayer dollars.
USDS set out to create a community of digital contracting experts who could lead the government into a more efficient procurement process and implement strategies to adopt agile software development and human centered design services.
To accomplish this, USDS partnered with OFPP in an effort to develop an immersive development and training program to enhance digital services acquisition expertise across the federal government.
The Digital Service Contracting Professional Training and Development Program prize competition was designed to spur innovation in the training and development of federal contracting professionals who are fundamental to the success of digital service acquisitions.
Through a multi-phased challenge, participants were eligible for prize money up to $360,000. The challenge called for concept white papers, up to three design presentations, and a pilot program developed by the winner of the competition.
- Develop a Digital Service Contracting Professional Training and Development Program for the federal government, which will add a digital service core-plus specialization for contracting professionals under the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) Program issued by OFPP.
- Foster transformative change in the federal digital service acquisition culture.
- Spur innovation in the training and development market for federal contracting professionals who are fundamental to the success of digital service acquisitions.
By using Challenge.gov, USDS and OFPP were able to elicit feedback from a diverse group, ranging from the public to the private sector.
USDS received 23 submissions during the initial call for concept papers. These came from individuals, training companies, and businesses large and small. Based on specific criteria, they narrowed the pool to three submissions from: GovLoop, Management Concepts, and the team of ICF International & ASI Government.
In the second phase of the challenge, the three finalists presented their program design in oral presentations and a mock classroom sessions. All three finalists offered compelling approaches, detailed solutions, and creative uses of technology and agile instruction methodologies.
Ultimately, the judging panel selected the team of ICF International and ASI Government as the winner to develop and pilot their program. Elements of the winning solution included customized learning paths, self-directed learning, in-classroom guided learning, and a live digital assignment.
The six month pilot period began October 20, 2015. The concept was tested with a cohort of 30 contracting officers representing several federal agencies. These participants received the first-ever Digital Service Contracting Officer Core-Plus Certification, establishing them as pioneers in the field of digital services procurement.
The challenge was only the beginning of our efforts to develop digital service and IT expertise for contracting professionals, program managers, and other stakeholders.
As a result of the challenge and the partnership between USDS and OFPP, there is now a thriving Digital IT Acquisition Professional community (DITAP). The DITAP training and certification program produced by the challenge was run again to prove that it was repeatable. This method of incrementally moving towards a full implementation is championed by the USDS and was demonstrated through success in an additional 30 Contracting Officers being put through the training course.
The pilots focused on training contract specialists/officers to create a community of informed buyers on the front lines of acquisition. In May of 2018, OFPP published the Memo which made the FAC- C Digital Service Certification an official core-plus designation. Beginning in 2022, a procurement specialist who has the Certification will be required to be involved digital services acquisitions of $7 million or more.
The ultimate goal is for the program to be offered in multiple agencies, by various training providers, or by the Federal Acquisition Institute. USDS and OFPP continue to work with training institutions and companies to continue offering new DITAP Development Program courses.
Areas of Excellence
Design and Structure
In order for contracting professionals to best understand how to successfully procure digital services, they have to understand what does and doesn’t work outside and inside of government. They also have to understand the digital service terminology, new market intelligence around the kinds of companies who excel in this field and those that do not, and how to apply the flexibilities that exist in federal regulations around increasing the speed and quality of acquisitions for technology.
This challenge was unique in that it was done in three phases and provided seed funding for design and piloting of the winning submissions. This allowed the winning team to jointly build the program with digital service experts and produce a superior training experience.
Phase 1: Technical Concept
During this phase, participants were asked to submit a white paper describing their concept for a training and development program that met the stated objectives. They received 23 submissions from individuals, training companies, universities, and large and small businesses. Based on specific criteria, three finalists were selected to move on to the second phase.
Phase 2: Program Design
The three finalists were awarded $20,000 each in prize money to design in more detail their proposed concept programs. At the end of Phase II, these finalists presented their in-depth program designs via an oral presentation and a one-hour mock classroom training to a panel of senior government leaders. One finalist was selected to move on to Phase 3.
Phase 3: Pilot
Phase 3 required that the finalist develop and pilot its program for approximately 30 students. Up to $250,000 in milestone payments were provided to assist the winner in developing their proposed pilot for a training and development program that could be easily adopted and implemented by the government. After successfully completing Phase 3, the finalist received $50,000 in additional prize money for developing a program that fully met the stated objectives.
The pilot was held in the Washington D.C. area with local and remote students. After the pilot period ended, the program design went through a retrospective and assessment to improve on the content and course requirements.
Transition and Implementation
The purpose of the challenge was to create a lasting program that could be improved upon and replicated at various agencies across the federal government. As such, the challenge had to be designed to ensure a successful transition from prize competition to fully implemented federal program. Momentum had to carry on long after the award of the prize money and completion of the pilot training course.
The competition structure and rules laid the foundation for this transition and continuing efforts in the program today.
The rules for the competition stated the intention to use the winning program as the basis of a digital service core-plus specialization for contracting professionals under the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) Program issued by OFPP. In addition, the final results of the challenge were to be provided to federal training institutions, including the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) and Defense Acquisition University (DAU), to implement and maintain the program.
To be eligible for a prize, participants had to agree to grant to the government a royalty-free, non-exclusive worldwide license to use, copy, and publicly display all parts of a submission. The winning curriculum was based on an open-source learning management system, which has allowed it to evolve to keep pace with best practices and the changing needs of acquisition professionals. It also makes it easier to tailor the training to different government agencies and acquisition roles.
Upon completion of the pilot, the winning team was required to provide to OMB data that would help determine the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing such a program. This included:
- An assessment of how well students achieved the objectives of the proposed program and concept for a capstone or practical skills test that might be required for certification;
- Explanation of logistical problems that surfaced in the execution of the pilot and how they were resolved, as well as what should be done if a scaled program were to be implemented;
- A cost breakdown for the pilot, including contract services, equipment, facilities, hardware, software, and training materials;
- An accountability report that captures how well the pilot was executed, including a comparison of projected costs to actual costs and quality measurements for results;
- Final documented program design that included lessons learned and any changes made to the initially proposed design;
- A final estimated investment required to implement the proposed program; and
- A description of how to monitor return on investment.
A second pilot, or minimum viable product (MVP), was conducted through a sole-source contract to prove that the pilot success could be replicated. Following the successful second running of the course, the content material, requirements for instruction and guidance on how to create this course was provided to federal acquisition training institutions for implementation. This information informed OMB’s efforts to transition the winning proposal into a government program that can be adapted for future needs.
Understand what your end goal is and use the challenge program to achieve that.
From the beginning we wanted a tangible pilot as our outcome. If we had just done an ideation challenge, we would still have received great ideas and concepts, but not the knowledge to implement them without conducting either a follow-on challenge or an acquisition. By utilizing the phased approach that had already been used by others on challenge.gov, the team was able to have a tangible outcome that could be learned from and replicated.
Do market research to determine whether the prize amount is enough to inspire the targeted responders.
The team utilized a draft version of the prize challenge to float the language, evaluation, and prize amount to a varied group of potential solution providers to ensure that when it was published it would be clear and actionable.
Ultimately, this challenge was a call for design: Help us design a program that will develop and produce contracting officers who can be successful in the era of digital government.
This was the first challenge explicitly targeted at coaching and training procurement professionals on how to apply best practices from industry to the regulations and processes that government employees face. Going in, the team did not know how enough about instructional design to create a set of requirements that would result in a contract for this type of service. Due to this, the challenge process was perfect in its ability to bring experts in this field as well as experts in the content that needed to be taught.
The challenge presented a unique opportunity for participants to design a program that would immediately be put into use in a government setting. After submitting their initial concept papers, participants had the opportunity to sit with the team to ask very specific questions related to the design of their unique solution. By having an open and honest conversation in the two week “design” phase, the top 3 contestants were able to provide a level of detail and analysis in their solutions to ensure their ideas could move from paper into practice.
The phased structure of the challenge ensured that everything—from oral presentations to mock classroom experiences to constant assessment of performance metrics and cost—led to fully formed designs that could be implemented in a pilot program.
For more information about the program itself visit: https://techfarhub.cio.gov/initiatives/ditap/
On this site is a link to the open source portal which hosts all of the content, including the winning response to the challenge and the after action report created by the winner documenting the results of the pilot. The challenge team was led by Traci Walker from USDS and Joanie Newhart from OFPP.
America COMPETES Act
The America COMPETES Act provided the legal authority for the challenge through the first pilot. A sole-cource contract was used for the second MVP pilot.