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Tradewinds Contract Vehicle


Bonnie Evangelista delves into the transformative Tradewinds Initiative within the Department of Defense's Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office. Aimed at redefining how the DoD approaches contracting for emerging technologies, Tradewinds embodies the shift towards rapid acquisition, emphasizing speed, compliance, and direct engagement between the government and innovators. Discover how this initiative is setting the stage for a new standard in DoD acquisitions, fostering a culture of agility, efficiency, and mission-focused delivery.


Bonnie Evangelista (0:14)

I am in an organization in the Department of Defense called the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office. We sit above the Services at the OSD level, and we're a direct report to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ms. Honorable Kathleen Hicks. I am in the acquisition directorate. I am not a technical person. I am very much a contracts nerd. I've been one my entire career. I've been an 1102 contract specialist, and I've kind of landed in this position in the middle of emerging technology, everything, software delivery and capability and contracting, because it's been, I've kind of been in the rapid acquisition space in the Department of Defense for about five years now. And in this organization, I kind of landed in it because my former organization, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, was trying to do things differently. And I think that's cool. I very much wanted to do contracting differently, and I was given that opportunity when I joined the JAIC, and it was at the JAIC where we started this initiative called Tradewinds. And Tradewinds in itself, I think, is not really, I'm going to talk about one feature or glide path in Tradewinds today that I think is super helpful and I want everyone to know about it today. I think it's going to be game changing. Hopefully it gets adopted across the Department of Defense. 


However, in the meantime, the Tradewinds Initiative started with, I think, very much in the essence of what this event is all about. They were trying to be better, do something different to actually deliver capability to the Warfighter faster and better. And that, I will say this, I say this everywhere I go. Some people in the room might've heard me say it before. At the end of the day, when it comes to capability delivery, software delivery, all roads lead to contracts. So if you are not thinking about contracting and how to reform your way of doing business, it's kind of game over. And I will say step two of that, don't get me wrong, I'm not just a contracts person. I'm a delivery and a mission person too. So step two of that is once I buy it, I can buy it for you really fast. But now I got to get it on network. And I think this is where I've intersected with people like Bryon and Jade and the audience and Tyler down at Second Front. And we are all collectively trying to just make this better for everyone. 


So with that, enough about our story, when I came on board in the JAIC, Tradewinds was getting its, I don't know, taking its baby steps, so to say. And I realized there was a lack of focus, and this is what I wanted to focus on. I real, from a contracting perspective, I'm talking pure contracting execution. I'm not talking big A acquisition. If you've heard that term before, we have got to get the red tape out of the way. We speed to contract should be our focus. And that's an unpopular opinion in some places you go. But I for sure believe in the emerging technology space. And essentially that means software delivery space, speed to contract is going to be the differentiator, removing any barriers to entry as much as possible, especially when it comes to on the accreditation side. The more we can do there, the better. And like we have got to stop doing business, or at least from this is maybe selfishly me. I do not want to do business in my email inbox. I don't want to do business in spreadsheets. We've got to do digital transformation. So those were some of my focuses when I came on board. And I also wanted to culturally help my customers, my DOD government buyers understand better that defining requirements is not solving their problems all the time, especially if they're truly interested in adopting emerging technology. 


So with those principles or guiding values in mind, we kind of landed in this pretty cool place where we really focused on how to shorten the gap between the buyer and the seller. And we have an initiative called the Tradewind Solutions Marketplace. And this to me is the premier offering in Tradewinds right now. We have other offerings like we're, we again, are experimenting with a lot of contracting pathways and we're using all the authorities that we think can get us to those values better, faster, quicker, whatever. Whatever we think is going to, at the end of the day, no kidding, help us make a deal faster or make it easier, especially easy for me is like, or simplicity is one of the number one things that we focus on, especially as we talk to, if we are getting into adoption across the services, the easier it is. I always tell people, the more if the easier I can make it so that you just say yes, that that's winning for us. So that's, this is where the solutions marketplace kind of entered the conversation. 


Before I get into the mechanics of it, I'm going to throw out a lot of contracting technical terms. It's okay if you don't know them. Don't, just bear with me for a second. I want you to just understand mechanically though, there are a few simple legs to the stool that make it legal, compliant and give the appropriate authorities for a contracting practitioner to get to that business deal. And the three things are super, super important for the practitioner like me, because you're always going to have people who are, who have been trained, we are programmed real, real, real good to be compliance oriented, to always, I would say ask legal versus tell legal what you know, we think or do. So that this is where the solutions marketplace is changing the conversation. And if you, you know, you may already be on that frequency with me. Most of the department is not on that frequency, and that's okay. I'm just here to tell you, this is why it's game changing. This is what we're doing. And mechanically, you too can help educate the department practitioners like me because we're doing as much as we can. But in the meantime, I do believe this is part of the future. I believe we're kind of a pathfinder in this. I'm not saying this is the solution, but this is one of, I hope, many solutions that come out in the next year or so where people are starting to think differently about some of the authorities that are out there and whatnot. This to me, is one of the few examples in the department where hashtag innovation is really happening in contracting. 


With that, let me tell you why. Up here on the screen, there's just a few features here I want to highlight. In terms of lowering barriers to entry, we've tried to create a way where industry can pitch similar to how you would do a product pitch, a venture capitalist pitch or something on the commercial side. We tried to mimic that and model that and adopt that in what we're doing. Post competition environment, I'm going to get into that in just a second. When we get into the mechanics, I am trying to create an environment where anything in the marketplace, so there is a video pitch that goes into the marketplace. If I'm a government buyer, I see your video pitch, I should just be able to buy it, period. So meeting competition standards with different contracting authorities that we have to live by is super important. We've done that, yes, check, check, check. And then of course, increase transparency. Anyone not getting into the marketplace or anyone who is in the marketplace should get feedback immediately. So that's been one of our metrics as well in terms of how we're winning in the marketplace. 


So what is the marketplace? I'm just going to do a voice track from here and then we'll get into the process. There is, if you go to, you can do it right now on your phone. Love this feature. Think low hanging fruit, like mobile friendly. Anything to me is like, is a must. So if you go to, go to tools and services, and there is a landing page called Solutions Marketplace, there's a lot of information on that page. So if you forget everything I say today and you want to reference back to it, that's the best place to go. There's a couple videos there for industry in particular that talks about how to submit a video pitch. What is a good one look like. We have some explainer videos that are coming out shortly, but in the meantime, there's a few there for you to read. If you're a nerd like me and you want to read the black and white, how is this legal? How is this compliant? There is a link to a announcement. 


This is what makes it real. There's a general solicitation posted on and for those who are not familiar with, this is the official government point of entry. So we have done our far part five due diligence for those of anyone in contracting or acquisition. We have announced to industry that we're, we have some strategic focus areas that we are interested in solutions to. And we are inviting industry to participate in a process, a process that we've published in this general solicitation. And if you meet the criteria or determine to have what we call technical merit or if you're evaluated favorably against the criteria in the announcement in the general solicitation, you have met the competitive standards for four authorities. We're leveraging FAR and non far based authorities. So we can do everything from early R&D because we're leveraging FAR part 35, broad agency announcement for T-shirts, nothing new there. R&D community is already using this. We're also leveraging commercial solutions opening procedures. 


This is less familiar to a lot of people in the department. This is where you can leverage far or non FAR based contracting. So we're using the marketplace as the competitive selection process for the CSO procedure. And then we're leveraging both other transaction authorities for 10 USC 40, 21 and 22. So basic and applied research, 40 21 prototyping and production, 40 22, all those authorities combined leveraged in one general solicitation. That's key number one. Mechanism number one that makes it real. And we've put there other two legs of the stool that make it real mechanically is there are submission instructions in that solicitation. The submission instructions talk about submitting your video, what format it should be in, how long it should be. There's some tips there. You may notice if you download the general solicitation, we're on revision five. So this is a living document for us. This is not a document that gets posted, it is static. We actually take lessons learned and we make updates to this. We've actually just recently updated the evaluation criteria for the video or when we're assessing videos for this reason, because we're getting a lot of feedback from both government and industry in terms of what's working, what's not working, what's giving us a good marketplace or a better fit marketplace. What and the like, the last piece that makes it real is the evaluation criteria. 


We are leveraging a platform called valid evaluation. We're using their rubric to do quick assessments. And what's happening is this is an open call long-term solicitation. So that means we are always collecting videos and how do we assess all these videos? Well, we batch them every month. So every given month we batch everything that was submitted and then we convene a peer panel. This is another key or another element that makes us a little different, but I think good different. It is a peer panel of industry, academia and government. So we recognize the government does not have maybe all of the expertise necessary to be assessing product pitches and anything emerging technology in general. So we've added that layer of due diligence, I would say, when evaluating technical merit. So that in a nutshell is the mechanics of what is the, how do you get, what is the marketplace? How do you get in the marketplace? Now let's talk about how do you buy from the marketplace. So someone like, now I have this and sorry if you register, I don't if anyone in the audience is government and you go to and register, you have instant access to the marketplace. So if you go in right now, I won't show 'cause industry can, it does not see what I see. Industry can only see their videos. This is a hot debate by the way. I don't, I don't see why not. I'm still losing this debate. So I think the response I got was, well, we don't want to like break the system too soon. We don't want to like shock the system. 


That's okay maybe soon, but for now we've put that barrier there just to kind of in our crawl, walk, run stage. We don't, you know, do too much change too soon. So on the government side though, you can, we now have I think close to 170, 175 affordable video solutions. We've assessed close to 400 video solutions and this is over a year. We literally launched the solutions marketplace last November 1st, I think it was, I think we did Halloween at midnight, but technically it was November 1st officially. And so over a year we've made a ton of progress. The first month we had 12 videos as an example. Like, I thought we were going to get nothing. Like nobody knew about this. This is like a hair-brained idea it felt like. But there, I think it actually demonstrated not just from month one, but now we have assessed close to 400 videos. There is a huge demand on the industry side. And I will tell you on the government side, there is just as much demand as a government buyer. 


We have done, I think if you can imagine, our first award using this methodology was in February. So a few months after we launched in November, we already had, the award was made in February. So we were already talking to customers before then about how to use this and how to get to solutions faster. So from February to September we did, I think approximately 13 or 14 awards. And these are the only ones that I know about because there's really no mechanism for me to know who's awarding what, because that's another important thing to remember is being in the marketplace does not mean you have a contract. It means you have a contracting mechanism to get a contract. So the nuance there is, as a small business or a startup, you now have a mechanism to do business directly with the government because you have met a competition standard that is really, really important from a government procurement regulation. Most people we are taught and we are programmed to default to something called CICA, Competition and Contracting Act. The competition in that law or statute says everybody gets a shot. And don't worry, there's exceptions to that. There's lots of exceptions. But in general, contracting practitioners like me are supposed to be competing doing what's called full and open competition all the time. 


Well, the authorities that I cited earlier say something different. Congress said actually the competition standard here is a peer panel and or for other transaction authorities competition to the maximum extent practicable. Which by the way, there's no definition. So we have a ton of discretion on what that means. I say all that to mean most people are, are not used to doing business in this fashion. So now that I have a mechanism, I can do business directly with vendor A, I saw something in the marketplace, it's going to solve a mission gap right now I want to buy it. I have a competed solution. I just need to scope and negotiate the contract. This is very similar to if you're familiar with cyber phase three contracting, very unstructured, maybe a little bit more collaborative, if you've heard the term alpha contracting before. Some of these things are not uncommon in this space. But again, most of the Department of Defense is not used to doing business this way. So even though we've showed promise, like I said, my office using the crap out of it has done over a dozen awards. I know the Air Force did five. One of the other speakers today, Christina Botello, she's using this platform. She did an award in her capacity, the Air Force Digital Transformation Office did four awards. 


And again, this is only what I'm aware of. I talk to lots of people in lots of venues. So there we don't have a mechanism yet to really report back unless someone is actually willing to report back to us. And we've asked, or that's part of what we've been asking people to do when we talk to them. If you make an award, please let us know, but I'm just trying to demonstrate to you the demand signal on both buyer and seller side is there, we have the mechanisms, we've done our due diligence, we've made sure that we are compliant with statutory any regulatory requirements from a contracting perspective. So that literally whoever is browsing the marketplace can buy. They can execute a contractual instrument and those instruments can be assistance agreements under R&D. They can be a FAR-based contract using the CSO procedures. It could be a other transaction or sorry, other transaction agreement using other transaction authority. So the practitioner has flexibility and discretion on what their strategy is going to be, what is going to be best to meet the mission. So with that, I believe there's this type of methodology will become the norm in the future. And coupled with some other cool innovations that I hope come on the accreditation side could be a huge enabler though for the department in terms of actual acceleration of and delivery of technologies. 


So with that, that's how the marketplace works. I'm actually curious if anyone in the audience does not believe me that like that this is, this is my number one question because I honestly believe adoption of this is a culture war we're facing and it is not a technology war. My hypothesis when I, part of the reason why we invested in this, I knew there are more solutions out there than problems and I just needed to get them to the user. So I'm curious what your perspective is.