VA rolls out new website to streamline contracts and innovation

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new digital one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs who want to work with the VA. Michael Parrish, director of acquisitions and senior executive director of VA, said the new Pathfinder site will help vendors who have not worked with VA before being certified through SAM.gov. But the site will also pre-filter to show only VA-specific solicitations.

“For those interested in trying to help break this black hole mold of trying to figure out how to do business, we’re rolling out – and it’s ready to go now, there are still processes we need to follow on the [operational technology] side for compliance – but there’s a new website, it’s a single point of entry into VA, both for innovation and sales,” Parrish said at the Healthcare Innovation Summit. May 5 ACT-IAC.

The site currently features a banner designating it as a demo site, although Parrish said it is “open for business”.

Parrish said that in addition to pre-screening SAM.gov to make it easier to find VA solicitations, there are other quality-of-life improvements that will come into what he called the site’s “next generation.” Pathfinder. For example, he said the site will eventually include future forecasts, so suppliers can be better informed of what’s to come. It will also include functionality for providers to submit questions and get answers from a VA employee within seven days.

Parrish previewed a major contract that VA will launch soon. Parrish wants to implement a frictionless supply chain as part of VA’s supply chain modernization. Part of this will involve matchmaking between large and small companies.

“It’s going to end up being a one-time contract for an integrator,” he said. “Mechanically…we’re going to be having these matchmaking sessions over the next few weeks, and also hopefully in a few weeks, by the end of the month, we’ll have a pre-solicitation for all of you.”

Parrish said the solicitation will be modified based on industry feedback before moving to a full, open competition. He said there are currently around 55 interested bidders. VA will select three or four finalists in the fall. Then, these finalists will move on to the next stage of the competition.

“One of the game changers we’re trying to make is that instead of getting great PowerPoint presentations and giving out a big contract, we’re going to have you prove it to us, so have a working working prototype that we’re going to then going to test to see how it integrates and works with all of our systems,” he said.

Parrish said his team is working to create a state-of-the-art government and industry simulation center where these new technologies will be tested “not only from a technical proficiency, but also from a strategic alignment with the VA vision”.

Parrish is also looking to make major changes to how VA evaluates offers. For example, Parrish wants to rely less on a firm, fixed price and reduce the number of change orders by starting to focus on the best value rather than the lowest price. He also wants to place more emphasis on past performance, to ensure suppliers can actually deliver on their promises.

“It’s part of our new governance structure and oversight and trying to streamline a lot of layoffs and getting us all to collaborate and work together in the business, [the Office of Information Technology, the Veterans Health Administration], and the other organizations and so there’s a lot of modernization opportunities that we’re doing,” Parrish said. “So it’s not your parents’ VA anymore, as they say.”

Parrish also said it was part of a larger effort around process and organizational improvements to streamline acquisition efforts. In addition to test and evaluation groups, this includes strategic sourcing and creating a VA acquisition career management system to standardize training.

“So the whole cradle-to-grave concept is on the table to be evaluated,” Parrish said. “And frankly, we have coalitions of teams across the business that are very excited about doing that.”

Edwin S. Wolfe