Five Procurement Strategies for Diverse Digital Services

The Biden-Harris President’s Management Agenda defines and outlines government-wide management priorities for all federal agencies to improve how the government operates and performs. Priority 1, Strengthening and Empowering the Federal Workforce, focuses on the opportunity for attracting, hiring, developing, and empowering talented individuals who are well suited and well prepared for the challenges the government faces, both in the near and long term.

As federal agencies support this priority internally, it’s also important to consider how federal agencies can support this vision through the “power of procurement.” With strategic planning, federal agencies can use procurement to engage talented contractor personnel to support our missions.

Here are considerations for your next digital services-related procurement to attract and empower your contractors to employ a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible workforce to support your agency mission.

1) Be Intentional About Contracting for Entry-level, Diverse Talent

Sharing what’s important to you

Instead of requiring “key personnel,” use plain language to show contractors what’s important to you.

[Your federal agency] understands contractors may not have all of the essential skills to begin this requirement, however, [federal agency] expects the awardee to quickly accelerate hiring, to hire a high-performing team, and sustain a high-performing team for the life of the requirement. [Federal agency] is interested in the contractor hiring and leveraging entry-level roles (along with other more senior positions when applicable) and diverse talent to help us achieve our mission and desired outcomes.

To further support this language, instead of asking and evaluating key personnel, ask about and evaluate the following requirements.

The contractor shall provide a brief explanation within the following four areas:

  1. Practice Area Leads

    • Provide a résumé for each of the Practice Area Leads in the following areas: product development, research, design, and engineering.
    • Note: It’s understood that the Practice Lead(s) may not be directly assigned to this requirement, however, their résumé will provide [federal agency] an understanding of whether they have the technical knowledge to recruit and assign a diverse and high-performing team, at various stages of their careers, to the requirement.
  2. Recruiting and Retaining Talent

    • How have you historically and how will you continue to recruit high-performing individuals for this requirement?
    • How have you historically and how will you continue to work to retain your high-performing team members?
    • How have you historically and how will you continue to support entry-level hires to achieve success both on this requirement and in their future?
    • What continuous education do you offer to improve employee skills to ultimately improve outcomes of this requirement?
    • Explain your approach to recruitment and retention and specific efforts to incorporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in your hiring, recruitment, retention, and business practices.
  3. Promoting Productive Outcomes

    • How do your Practice Area Leads promote high standards of performance?
    • How do your Practice Area Leads address and correct low performance?
    • What training mechanisms do you have in place and how do you encourage training within your team?
  4. Personnel Turnover

    • Describe specific situations in which you would remove a high performer(s) from this requirement (besides situations outside of your control; e.g., sickness, personal or family emergencies that have long-term effects, the person taking a job with another company, etc.).

Note: Feel free to mix and match the bullets above. If using all the bullets adds value, use them all. If you prefer only a few, remove the ones you don’t need for your specific requirement.

Don’t pre-establish a staffing plan

Resist the tendency of always issuing a “Staffing Plan” Excel spreadsheet with your solicitation that, more or less, pre-defines the roles (and role-levels) you think you want or expect, especially with senior level positions. If you pre-populate the sheet with rows listed with labor categories, like Senior Developer III or Master Design SME II, you’re destined to only get these roles proposed back to you. Be clear about what’s important to you (see above), and let contractors compete for meeting your objectives.

Keep in mind, FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) 39.104, Information technology services states that when acquiring information technology services, solicitations must not describe any minimum experience or educational requirement for proposed contractor personnel.

When acquiring information technology services, solicitations must not describe any minimum experience or educational requirement for proposed contractor personnel unless the contracting officer determines that the needs of the agency—

  • (a) Cannot be met without that requirement; or
  • (b) Require the use of other than a performance-based acquisition (see subpart 37.6).

Parent topic: Subpart 39.1 - General

View the full legislation

2) Allow Telecommuting To Support Diversity and Inclusion

Many solicitations still require some or all contractor employees to report to federal buildings. Even if a solicitation doesn’t require it, it often omits how the agency will react to a contractor proposing to leverage remote employees. However, in 2018, FAR 7.108, Additional requirements for telecommuting was updated to allow an agency to generally not discourage a contractor from allowing its employees to telecommute in the performance of government contracts.

In accordance with 41 U.S.C. 3306(f), an agency shall generally not discourage a contractor from allowing its employees to telecommute in the performance of Government contracts. Therefore, agencies shall not—

  • (a) Include in a solicitation a requirement that prohibits an offeror from permitting its employees to telecommute unless the contracting officer first determines that the requirements of the agency, including security requirements, cannot be met if telecommuting is permitted. The contracting officer shall document the basis for the determination in writing and specify the prohibition in the solicitation; or
  • (b) When telecommuting is not prohibited, unfavorably evaluate an offer because it includes telecommuting, unless the contracting officer first determines that the requirements of the agency, including security requirements, would be adversely impacted if telecommuting is permitted. The contracting officer shall document the basis for the determination in writing and address the evaluation procedures in the solicitation.

Parent topic: Subpart 7.1 - Acquisition Plans

View the full legislation

Solicitations should be clear about the requirements support for the contractor leveraging remote employees, especially when doing so will allow the contractor to hire and retain a more diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Acquisition teams can even consider this an opportunity to evaluate the processes and tools that a contractor may use to work inclusively. For example, the government can ask contractors to explain the processes and toolsets for providing live captions, recordings, and transcriptions for their employees, as well as ensuring employees have access to the latest versions of assistive technology.

3) Look Beyond Contract Dollars Equating to Experience

When evaluating a contractor’s experience, don’t simply use the size of past contracts or the length of a contract as measures for how a contractor may perform on your requirement without understanding what you might lose out on. Asking these questions, and hoping for contractors to respond with large-dollar contracts with long periods of performance will remove the opportunity for non-traditional contractors, or government start-ups, to compete and participate. Instead, try asking this:

Human Impact

Describe your experience providing similar services to this requirement. Tell us the problem statement you were solving for, the impact of the project on the users, lessons learned, and obstacles overcome. 

In plain language, connect why the experience gained on that project is meaningful to this requirement. Additionally, describe why this requirement is important to you and why you want to partner with us.

Technology Impact

From a research, product development, design, and/or engineering perspective, connect how your experience will lead to successful outcomes based on the objectives, constraints, and other modern technology considerations reflected in this performance work statement.

Submit at least one, but no more than three projects that contain both a Human Impact and Technology Impact element.

4) Be Intentional About Building a Partnership Between Your Federal Agency and the Contractor

If you utilize one or or all of the ideas above, hopefully it results in a contractor taking advantage of a diverse cohort of employees that reflect all types of roles—like entry-level talent that grow into future all-stars supporting our requirements. And as some contractors take a leap of faith to do this, it’s important the government makes it clear that we plan to be partners with them.

Let them know as much in the solicitation. Share in the document that post-award partnership between the government and the contractor is essential. Modern digital services require a close connection between both parties, as well as other stakeholders, subcontractors, and end-users.

When you have your kickoff meeting after the award, add these questions to the agenda.

  • Describe a successful partnership between the government and your business. 
  • What does that look like? How do you ensure that success? 
  • What have you implemented on other projects to enhance a partnership?

5) Listen to the Answers and Work Hard To Be a True Partner

After all, if you selected them for an award, based in part on one or all of the above ideas, they’ve already proven to you that they can be successful. You can be confident that they already know how to build and sustain a successful partnership.


Special thanks to the following colleagues who generously gave their time to provide ideas, edits, and suggestions to this post: Brian Whittaker, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Victoria Bitzer-Wales, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and Michelle Petryszyn, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).