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TechFAR Handbook


In the Government, digital services projects too often fail to meet user expectations or contain unused or unusable features. Several factors contribute to these outcomes, including the use of outdated development practices and, in some cases, overly narrow interpretations of what is allowed by acquisition regulations. OMB is developing tools to significantly upgrade the ability of Government digital services to deliver better results to our citizens and improve the way we capitalize on information technology (IT [1]) to better serve the American people.

One tool is the Digital Services Playbook, which identifies a series of “plays” drawn from proven private sector best practices to help agencies successfully deliver digital services. Another tool is the TechFAR, which highlights flexibilities [2] in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR [3]) that can help agencies implement “plays” in the Playbook that would be accomplished with acquisition support.

The vision for the TechFAR is that it will be expanded in future iterations to address many areas of IT. This edition of the TechFAR is aligned with the Digital Services Playbook guidance to use contractors to support an iterative development process. In particular, it emphasizes Agile software development [4], a technique for doing modular contracting and a proven commercial methodology that is characterized by incremental and iterative processes where releases are produced in close collaboration with the customer. This process improves investment manageability, lowers risk of project failure, shortens the time to realize value, and allows agencies to better adapt to changing needs. Agile software development is geared towards projects where significant design and development are needed, such as digital services (e.g., healthcare.gov or recreation.gov) as well as internal digital services and business systems. It is not designed to be used for commodity IT purchases, especially where commercially available off-the-shelf items can be used as-is at a lower cost and lower risk to the Government.

In every agency, there are multiple stakeholders who share in the responsibility for achieving successful results from their IT investments and who form the acquisition team, including program officials, IT officials, acquisition officials, and agency legal counsel. Agencies need to ensure adequate resources are dedicated to these stakeholders involved in Agile software development efforts. The TechFAR is designed to facilitate a common understanding among these stakeholders of the best ways to use acquisition authorities in making these investments to level set expectations and maximize the likelihood for success. The TechFAR consists of a handbook, which discusses relevant FAR authorities and includes practice tips, sample language, and a compilation of FAR provisions that are relevant to Agile software development.

This handbook is not intended to usurp existing laws, regulations, or Agency policy. It calls out specific sections of the FAR as examples, but the TechFAR should not be read too narrowly to only apply to the sections specifically mentioned. All Federal agency stakeholders are encouraged to use this guidance. It is a living document; users are urged to provide feedback, share experiences, and offer additional strategies, practice tips, policies, or contract language that may be used to assure that IT acquisitions achieve their desired results. This feedback will be used to inform where additional guidance or reference materials may be appropriate.


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