Air Force Procurement Contests Take Wing

October 7, 2011

As blog readers are aware, I have been writing for years in support of the government making greater use of contests as a procurement tool -- announcing a performance objective and a prize for the first successful solution to the problem, where anyone can submit an entry. Aside from being a dramatic form of performance-based contracting, it opens up the procurement process and puts the emphasis on doing good work, not just filling out proposal paperwork. As with every off-the-beaten-path procurement technique, it is not suitable for everything, but like many unconventional approaches, it is underused.

I feel strongly enough about this issue that a few weeks ago in this blog, I chided my friend Alan Chvotkin for writing a column that I thought inappropriately discouraged agencies from trying out this idea.

Well, I recently discovered that the Air Force -- or more precisely the Air Force Research Lab in Ohio -- has successfully experimented with a procurement contest and is now taking up the technique as an accepted tool in their toolkit.

It began with a contest to develop a technology that could stop fleeing vehicles without permanent damage to the vehicle and without harming the occupants. The prize was $25,000. The contest was listed through the private firm Innocentive.com, the leading player that advertises contests (mostly from the private sector) to possible participants. 

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