Will Trump’s Procurement Reform Work?

Nick Sinai
4 min readDec 28, 2016


Bloomberg BNA’s Sam Skolnik wrote an article today about a procurement reform working paper of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

While I didn’t leak it, I will admit to being a co-author — with many talented others — of the unpublished policy paper, as a part of a volunteer policy subcommittee of the Clinton campaign. Since it wasn’t published, it shouldn’t be considered an official position of the campaign.

In fact, I contributed to a handful of papers across various policy subcommittees, including Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, and was honored to be part of a small planned Tech and Innovation leadership team (to be co-chaired by Jen Pahlka and Nicole Wong) that was going to serve in the Clinton transition effort, if she had won.

Given my interest in public policy, my past public service in the White House and FCC, and my support of Secretary Clinton, I was honored to participate in a volunteer, personal capacity in these policy efforts.

I’m passionate about a number of topics in the leaked paper, including IT procurement reform, implementing the DATA Act, and a focus on a user-centric approach to digital services. Scaling the U.S. Digital Service and GSA’s 18F are a great way to achieve much of this, especially around simpler and better digital government interactions with the American public.

The IT procurement reform ideas included:

1) Retire, Replace, and Modernize Legacy IT Systems

2) Halt large IT procurements that take longer than 1 year to reach outcomes, or do not deliver regular improvements for users

3) Put procurement executives at the table with the CIO and program executives

The ideas in the working paper are bi-partisan and enjoy strong Republican champions, and therefore I’m cautiously optimistic the Trump Administration will incorporate them in their agenda. As I said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg BNA, these are ideas that a Trump Transition can and should embrace — because they are still important and good for the American people

In fact, I co-authored a Politico op-ed with Republican thought leader Matt Lira on many of these topics when we were both fellows at Harvard. Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) modernization sounds wonky, but the PRA is real red tape that gets in the way of delivering a government that works for the American people.

It’s been reported that the Trump transition team is interested in procurement reform, and if the new administration does this well, it will be important progress for the country.

While Trump attempting to re-negotiate the F-35 and Air Force One contracts publicly has been entertaining — my Harvard Kennedy School colleague Steve Kelman argues that a Trump presidency that brings additional focus on government contracting could be a positive development — it will be more meaningful, long term, if the President-elect attempts structural procurement reforms.

The brilliant Jen Pahlka has written about the promise and perils of procurement reform under Trump. She’s 100% right that the devil is in details, and reform efforts needs great people (both new-to-government and long-time civil servants) to execute well — and to avoid unintended consequences. She wisely reminds us the Trump transition team isn’t the first group to have the ambitious goal of fixing or modernizing how the federal government buys goods and services.

Jen also argues convincingly that the USDS and 18F teams can help with procurement reform:

Procurement reform is a place where the Trump administration and a Republican Congress could have a meaningful positive impact. The teams in USDS and 18F have enormous insights in what many of problems are, what has been tried, and where the pitfalls lie when contemplating reform. And they are some of the smartest, most determined people I’ve met. If the administration wanted to tackle this issue, these teams could be incredibly helpful….

[Federal Acquisition Reform] reform could significantly accelerate the kind of progress we’ve been fighting for. Sure, there is reason for caution. If done badly, it could saddle us with an entirely different set of problems instead, and if not done iteratively over time, it’s likely to have unintended consequences. It must work in concert with changes in systems and organizations, not just rules. And it must be done while keeping faith with the ideals of our nation, to serve all the people. But if done right, it’s worth doing, and the good news is there are hundreds of USDSers and 18Fers who’ve been showing what an agile, risk-tolerant government looks like. There’s no substitute for the scars they’ve earned fighting this fight, and no question that they’re here to get better results for the American people. If they share that goal, I urge the Trump team to learn from them.

Transforming procurement for the better will also be good for innovative tech firms, especially the faster growing software companies that Insight Venture Partners invests in. (I’m a Venture Partner at Insight, in full disclosure.) The federal government spends too much on legacy and custom software, and not enough on newer product and platform software.

The Bloomberg article also notes the working paper ambitiously proposed to change the acquisition workforce culture. There is already great initial work happening on the acquisition workforce — take USDS Acquisition Head Traci Walker’s training program of agency acquisition officials about modern IT, for instance — but there is admittedly still a lot of opportunity here.

Culture change in any government agency or workforce is ambitious but definitely possible — look at the measurable improvements in creating a more veteran-centric culture at the VA under the tenure of Secretary Bob McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson.

Will Trump’s procurement reform work? The odds are against it, or at least against it working well. But I’m willing to help, if the net outcome is a more efficient and effective government for the American people.



Nick Sinai

Senior Advisor at Insight Partners; Adjunct Faculty at Harvard; former US Deputy CTO at White House; Author of Hack Your Bureaucracy