Pilot IRS, a configurable and incremental approach to procure, test, and deploy cutting-edge technology solutions within IRS, has proven successful in helping businesses “get through the door without having to do a major acquisition” while awarding contracts for solutions the agency needs.
“We want them very similar to sprints,” Marcela Almeida, contracting officer with the IRS Procurement Innovation Branch, told the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s IRS Days 2022.
The goals of Pilot IRS are to promote innovative responses to IRS challenges and investigation of emerging technologies and processes, broadly communicate IRS’ areas of interest in innovative solutions and technologies, and create a streamlined progression from concept to prototype, testing, and limited deployment.
A Pilot IRS contract versus a traditional contract eliminates the longer lead times, as Pilot IRS requires a minimal amount of documentation for the procurement action. It removes price as an independent variable as not-to-exceed amounts will already be established. Depending on the requirements and the solutions, a contract developed under the Pilot IRS program can be evaluated and awarded in several weeks, if not days.
Pilot IRS contracts are formed in phases beginning with proof of concept, then moving to prototypes, testing, and initial deployment, followed by scaled deployment before the final phase of full deployment. The number of phases is two to four based on the requirement, Almeida said, as they consider “how many phases will it take to get us from our current state to our future state.”
The program is intended to attract new entrants into the federal contracting arena, promote innovative and creative techniques to enhance contract outcomes throughout the acquisition lifecycle by allowing large and small businesses to compete, and show how IRS is proactively building relationships with industry partners and new companies that have not previously done business with the federal government.
Through oral presentations and technical demonstrations that provide face-to-face interaction between government and industry, the contractor can quickly show Pilot IRS if they can deliver value. Comparative analysis is used as the evaluation methodology, and the threat of protests is reduced because of the transparent process. Listening sessions actively bring together procurement and industry, including small businesses and non-traditional vendors.
These are an opportunity, Almeida stressed, for potential industry partners to get questions in beforehand and get answers immediately. These “very transparent sessions” are important to Pilot IRS and “drive how we refine the performance work statement.”
Pilot IRS’ latest solution challenge resulted in four solutions that leverage augmented reality or a comparable version of extended reality capability using publicly available IRS information to improve the taxpayer experience via the use of any computing device in 60 days.
Overall, Pliot IRS has received more than 420 proposals across nine solution challenges, with zero protests and the procurement acquisition lead time from RFI to award averaging 25 business days. A five-page submission and one-page price proposal is required, with no past performance submission required; anything longer than five pages is not read.
“We want this to be a partnership,” Almeida said. “We try to make it an easy lift, something a new business wants to do.”
Fifty-eight percent of the contractors awarded have been first-timers, and 26 percent have been small businesses.
“We want it to be a full and open competition,” Almeida said. “We end up awarding to the most innovative solution – often those are offered by startups.” She noted that the process has resulted in finding “small business that have really interesting tech solutions for the federal government.”
Her advice to interested businesses is to use the program’s limited document requirement wisely. “Don’t overthink it – start it with ‘this is how I’m going to solve your problem,’” she said. “Use those five pages: what makes you stand out …what will we be able to see, what makes your solution unique?”
Solutions don’t necessarily have to integrate with IRS legacy systems in the first phases, as the goal of Pilot IRS is “trying to figure out if it’s a good fit” in this stage. “But we still want the opportunity to test if it solves our problem; then we will work through the process,” Almeida said. “First, we want to know if it’s worth our while.”