reverse auction

How GSA got code for $1

As an experiment in micro purchasing, the General Services Administration's 18F digital services development group set out to test whether it could buy chunks of code – rather than a full application – for less than $3,500.

Using GSA’s Contract-Award Labor Category tool, 18F asked for bids on loading labor category data from the Schedule 70 into CALC. With the reverse auction starting at $3,499, 18F hoped to test the viability of micro purchasing, plus encourage open source solutions from companies new to the government market.

18F got much more -- or less – than it bargained for. The winning bid came in at $1.

Brendan Sudol, the $1 bidder, met the requirements and even loaded the data a few days ahead of the deadline. His code had “100 percent test coverage, an A grade from Code Climate, and included some new functionality to boot." 18F's David Zvenyach explained in a Nov. 6 blog post.

But why the $1 bid?

"I love reading about the innovation and impact that 18F, USDS and company are having in the government, and it's made me want to help contribute to the cause," Sudol told FCW, GCN’s sister site. "Plus, I use open source technology on a daily basis, and saw this as a great opportunity to give back."

Not everyone was excited by the turn of events, however.

In the project's Github chatter, other bidders questioned the legality of Sudol's offer when they saw bids plummet from $1,250 to $1 in a single day. Was it even legal for feds to pay so far below minimum wage? They also questioned the bidding setup, because as it stands, it appears one bidder could log a $3,499 bid, a colluding bidder could log a $1 bid and bidding would cease. The colluding $1 bidder then just has to fail to deliver within the 10-day time limit, and the higher bidder would get the project at the maximum rate.

"[I]t's legit," Zvenyach told FCW, responding to the question about minimum wage. "It's a business not an individual, and the bid is not a labor rate."

"In some respects, this result was the best possible outcome for the experiment," Zvenyach wrote. "It proved that some of our core assumptions about how it would work were wrong. But the experiment also validated the core concept that open-source micro purchasing can work, and it's a thing we should try to do again."

Throughout the course of the experiment, Zvenyach said 18F saw 16 different bidders jump in on the action, including several woman-owned, minority-owned and service-disabled-veteran-owned small businesses. Eight of the bidders, Sudol among them, registered on SAM.gov only after hearing of the experiment.

Sudol, who said he worked with his friend and colleague Andy Chosak to complete the work, noted that this was his first time working for the feds, and he was happy to do it dirt cheap. "This is $1 more than I make from the other little web projects I like to work on in my free time," Sudol told FCW. "And this one actually is meaningful and helps the community."

This article originally appeared on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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