The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), in collaboration with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), created a technique for Federal acquisition professionals to quickly procure digital services using the SBA 8(a) program. The practice helps agencies bring cultural change by implementing Digital Service Playbook and TechFAR Hub strategies with lowered risk, testing modern technology stacks, beginning iterative development with little procurement lead time, and increasing diversity in federal procurement.
Goals of the Initiative
The initiative gives agencies the ability to:
Give a clear, easy, and fast path to start digital service projects
Entice non-traditional vendors into the Government space through the 8(a) program
Increase the number of contracts awarded to quality digital service providers
Reduce administration for the SBA and agencies by providing an easy on-ramp to and release from the 8(a) program for projects within scope
Help agencies meet SBA small business goals
These one-pagers provide agencies an overview of the initiative. They include a summary of the key characteristics of the technique and a checklist for acquisition teams to determine if the initiative is a good fit for their needs.
How to use an 8(a) company for your digital service needs
Long procurement lead times and limited coaching on new methods can slow the adoption of modern technology. Competition requirements in procurement may also be cumbersome for entrants new to the federal marketplace.
The use of SBA’s 8(a) program can solve many of these problems. The 8(a) program can get requirements on contract quickly with a sole source procurement of up to $4.5 million dollars in value. It also provides agencies with a low-risk gateway to accelerated acquisitions and product delivery. There are vendors in the SBA 8(a) program with significant experience implementing modern technology and digital services, and there are registered 8(a) vendors ready to do business with the federal government. However, agencies hesitate to use the 8(a) program due to concerns about the repetitive acquisition requirements--also known as "Once an 8(a) Always an 8(a)." This results in missed opportunities to use a tested acquisition program, increase participation of disadvantaged businesses in federal procurement, and get digital solutions into citizens’ hands faster.
SBA issued a memo that provides an exemption to the repetitive acquisition rule for agencies that want to use the 8(a) direct award initiative to experiment with digital services and efficiently access skilled software developers.
Note: The thresholds identified in the 2016 SBA memo are outdated. Acquisition professionals should refer to FAR 19.805-1 to see the most up-to-date thresholds.
Additionally, multiple agencies issued a memo with strategies for agencies to meet or exceed their respective Small Business Disadvantaged goal. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the Department of Defense, the Minority Business Development Agency in the Department of Commerce, and the SBA support maximizing the use of the 8(a) program, including for software development requirements.
To take advantage of the 8(a) digital services initiative, agencies may only award contracts within the general scope of the three Statements of Objectives (SOOs) provided by the SBA.
After identifying a requirement, agencies follow normal SBA sole-source 8(a) award processes. The main difference with the initiative comes after the work is done. After completion of the contract, agencies can keep any follow-on work within the 8(a) program or switch to another contracting method or vehicle without requesting SBA approval. If agencies choose to remove the follow-on digital services requirement from the 8(a) program, they don’t need SBA’s or their OSDBU’s permission, provided they stayed within the scope of the initiative.
The scope of these acquisitions is best for agencies that are beginning to adopt digital services. They provide an opportunity to learn digital services techniques, try out modern technology stacks, and begin iterative development.
Statement of Objectives Examples
The scope of work for use of this initiative is limited to three Statements of Objectives (SOOs). Samples of each are listed below in order of maturity of modern technology understanding and implementation, from the less mature (Learn the Process) to the more mature (Digital MVP). The SOOs can be used independently yet they also build upon one another and/or can be combined and included in one Request for Quote/Proposal.
These SOOs are living documents that iterate as technology and processes change. If you have suggestions to help improve these SOOs, please share them through our Help improve this site feature.
SOO: Learn the Process
Culture change, practical application, and retrospective. This is for agencies with very little education and experience with implementing iterative and design approaches, such as agile software development or lean design.
Alternatives analysis, demonstration, and retrospective. This is for agencies who are looking to move to modern technology stacks, platforms, or solutions but want hands-on guidance through the process of determining which works best in their agency environment.
Discovery and design, develop MVP, retrospective. This is for agencies with stakeholders that have a working level of understanding of User Experience (UX) design thinking and/or agile software development. This effort allows for the design, development, and release of a Digital Minimum Viable Product to solve an agency need or problem.
Each SOO includes listed “outputs”. Getting to these outputs, or delivered product, is the measure of a successful contract. Each SOO includes a retrospective which is to be used as information that can inform the next contract in the event more work is needed. Once the contract deliverables are received, the requiring office again is free to choose from all acquisition alternatives--including non-8(a) alternatives.
It is important to capture past performance as these efforts are completed. It will help the acquisition community and the 8(a) companies get meaningful work in the digital service space.
What is not in Scope
As the purpose of this initiative is to help agencies get started with digital services through the use of an 8(a) company, the scope does not include:
Solutions intended to serve as the full system/solution implementation
Operations & maintenance efforts, unless minor in nature to meet the overall outputs
Other non-included services such as content strategy, data architecture, migration, or enterprise efforts (unless minor in nature to meet the overall outputs).
Identify which SOO(s) is most appropriate for your agency/program and tailor it to your requirement. Be sure to include in the “History Section” any pertinent information related to your technical environment, operating constraints, organizational information, or history related to the end users of the systems, etc. which will help the offeror tailor their solution to your requirement.
Send the memo, dated December 20, 2016, to your agency’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) office. The OSDBU should also receive the RFP, or other associated solicitation or contract documents, with at least one of the three SOOs incorporated. This ensures that the OSDBU is aware of your award’s connection to the memo.
At the completion of the contract, agencies can keep any follow-on work within the 8(a) program or switch to another contracting method or vehicle without getting SBA approval for removal from the program.