Can Clay Johnson save federal government procurement?

Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)
Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)

Clay Johnson has been talking about procurement and how it’s America’s big problem since (at least) 2010, and he has yet to let up.

Knowing Clay, he’s not going to, so let’s give him a shot at fixing it.

What Clay had to say about procurement in 2010, before he became so well-versed on the subject, will resonate with many given our current technology crisis:

Both the liberal and the conservative ought to jointly care about federal procurement. From “gov2.0” to financial reform to healthcare to defense, there isn’t a single political issue that the federal procurement process does not impact. If you’re a healthcare advocate, for example, how government buys things will greatly affect any form of universal healthcare’s cost. If you’re pro-security, I’m sure you want government to have the best flak vests and armor available. You want procurement to work.

Let’s face it, when most people hear the word “procurement,” their eyes glaze over before falling into a deep coma.

Clay brings procurement to life as if it were a puppet show, leaving us captivated, laughing, engaged, wanting more. He’s the Aneesh Chopra meets Todd Park meets Jim Henson of procurement and he may be the one who can save us.

But more than that, he has the chops.

Clay is currently co-founder of the new startup Department of Better Technology, whose flagship product, Screendoor, includes an easy-to-use public-facing RFP listing platform. Previously, he served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow with Project RFP-EZ. Working at Sunlight Foundation and Blue State Digital, he proved he can execute technology and build community around a cause.

He’s co-authored a white paper, “7 Simple Ways to Modernize Enterprise Procurement.” He served on California’s Task Force on Reengineering IT Procurement for Success that produced recommendations to improve large IT procurements.

Here’s more from Clay on the recent technology issues related to healthcare.gov:

All this and he loves the intersection of technology and procurement more than anyone else in America.

If you have doubts, watch Clay discussing procurement at this year’s Code for America Summit:

I’m not naive to think one person can make wholesale reform happen overnight, but we have strong examples that appointing the right person with the right personality in the right C-level role at the right time can be a game changer.

We’ve seen this in technology with the appointments of the nation’s first chief information officer (Vivek Kundra) and chief technology officer (Aneesh Chopra) and, subsequently, Steven VanRoekel and Todd Park. None of them are in the weeds coding (Clay will be), but they served as linchpins for opening the doors to opportunity. They created plans and roadmaps with agency deliverables. They brought hope to the disgruntled innovators fighting the good fight within government.

Sure, they’ve ruffled feathers, but that’s what was needed for government technology and needed even more for procurement. And, if you don’t already know this, I can assure you, Clay Johnson is not afraid to ruffle feathers.

Appoint Clay Johnson as U.S. chief procurement officer.

He may be the one who can save us.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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