18F Micro-Purchase Platform Offers Freelance Coding to Agencies

The federal digital service 18F is testing a new platform for small purchase coding projects by startups and technologists.

by / February 26, 2016
Flickr/Chris Dlugosz

Can small freelance contracts with tech companies and startups pay off? The federal government thinks so.

After a successful pilot in 2015, the federal digital service 18F has created a new platform agencies can use for low-cost coding projects. 18F’s team of Silicon Valley recruits applies the term “micro-purchases” to describe the new transactions. Each is $3,500 or less, open source and approved after a short vendor bidding. In a co-authored blog post by Alan deLevie, Kane Baccigalupi and Alla Goldman Seiffert, 18F said the goal for its micro-purchase platform is to enable agencies to cut through procurement’s typical regulatory requirements through a special small purchase policy.

“This platform is a key part of 18F’s larger experiment around using the federal government’s micro-purchase authority to procure useful digital services from the broader vendor community,” wrote the group in a blog post.

Still, while 18F did find a vendor who delivered on the contract, the system may still require more experimentation. 18F awarded the first micropurchase to Brendan Sudol, a former Etsy Web developer and Washington, D.C., native for the cost of $1. At such a low bid, Sudol easily won the reverse auction against the 15 other bidders, yet drew the ire of other developers who were skeptical of his motives.

“A bunch of people seemed to get upset about this,” Suhol wrote on his blog. “The story made the front page of Hacker News, some thought I was trying to ‘game the system’ or ‘troll the bid system,’ others thought it wasn’t ‘ethical’ or ‘legal,’ and many thought I would never complete the work.”

Sudol said he submitted a $1 bid for a mixture of reasons, all of which boiled down to a love of 18F’s work for government and volunteerism, having a little spare time, and gaining bragging rights as the first to participate.

“Simply put, it’s because I wanted to work on the project, and knew the minimum bid would guarantee me of that,” Sudol said.

To ensure micro-purchases can be a sustainable tool to contract government tech, 18F has opened new micro-purchase opportunities. This time around, 18F will gauge responses when a contract isn’t as well publicized — Hacker News driving most of the 10,000 unique visitors to the original posting. 18F will also test different types of coding jobs that range from data management, form and email automation, to front-end user interface work.

At press time, the platform shows 18F has already awarded 14 new micro-purchases. Excluding two $1 winning bids, the 12 others constitute a bid average of $592, with a high of $1,649, and a low of $249