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Open Source Government Software United States

$1 Bid Wins Government Open Source Software Purchasing Experiment (gsa.gov) 124

An anonymous reader writes: A couple weeks ago we discussed a project from a software team within the U.S. General Services Administration. Its goal was to set up a portal to let developers bid on the creation of open source code needed by the government. From the beginning, they said it was an experiment, and now the results are in from their first project. The project was quickly bid all the way down to $1, and on Wednesday, the winner delivered a functional solution that met their criteria. They say, "When we received the $1 bid, we immediately tried to figure out whether it was intentional, whether it was from a properly registered company, and whether we could award $1. We contacted the bidder and we confirmed that the bid was valid, that the registration on SAM.gov was current, and that the bid would be the winning bid. It was a plot twist that no one here at 18F expected. This unexpected development will no doubt force us to rethink some of our assumptions about the reverse-auction model." Despite their surprise, the team feels this is proof that the system can succeed. They're now working to refine the process.
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$1 Bid Wins Government Open Source Software Purchasing Experiment

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  • Yay! Nothing says "success" like working for free. Great job!
    • 'Free' may not quite mean free.
      It means you can now advertise this in your resume, for example.

      • If you find such advertizing interesting, how much do you pay me to send you my resume?

      • sure who wouldn't want more exposure [theoatmeal.com]. Such a unique platform [wilwheaton.net] like getting Govt Bids is sure to be rewarding down the line.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yes. Looking at the code on github it is well written python. For a skilled dev this was a quick enough feature to add (~1-2 days?) that it probably was worth doing to establish contacts. Well played by all! This was a mixture of good policy, tools, code and sense. This micro purchasing experiment is likely to work provided code quality is measured and can be upheld.

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            The problem is that you'll be competing with people who have no job and can do the work for little or no money because any income is better than no income. Alternatively, they'll already be employed. Any income is additional income. I do not see anybody making any decent money from this. For better or worse, that's what it looks like is going to happen. This sort of pricing is not a one-off, I suspect. You'll find they're all low-ball bids from people for whom any additional money is a good thing.

            • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

              The reason you're wrong is because most coders are working and wouldn't code for free and most unemployed people don't code and the ones that do are highly unlikely to do more than one or two small projects to prove themselves before wanting pay.

              • by KGIII ( 973947 )

                Well, this bid indicates that I may not be wrong. We'll have to see. It seems a bit premature to call me wrong but we'll see.

          • worth doing to establish contacts

            I think the point of contention is whether such a $1 coder would actually establish contacts and whether those contacts would be worthwhile in any immediacy. Worthwhile meaning things like leading to more high paying jobs in the future because if they're being called back for bottom of the barrel prices again then this was a waste of her time.

            • In this case at least, the $1 coder has made his name known to everyone who RTFA. Those of us curious enough looked at his code.

              It would not surprise me if the coder got some work from this.

              The next $1 coder might not be as successful. Alternately, enough folks might look at code from successful bidders and hire the good ones that it is a worthwhile approach going forward.

              I am interested to see how this turns out after more iterations.

      • Re:Work for free!! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @09:27PM (#50885833) Homepage

        'Free' may not quite mean free.
        It means you can now advertise this in your resume, for example.

        Sure but is it a race to the bottom? I mean the whole point is to offer something for cheap now to cash in later, lots of things are about that like oh every sale in existence. But it doesn't work if people are jumping in all the time thinking they'll be the next big thing, the next time you're making a "real" bid the next guy offers $1 and so it goes on and on. I mean $1 isn't ten minutes at minimum wage, it's way below any kind of living wage even eating Ramen noodles and living in your parent's basement. I have a friend who does music on a semi-professional basis, and yeah you can almost always get a free-ish band doing it for the exposure. And they've had to man up and say if that's what you want that's fine but it won't be our band. They've practiced many, many hours both alone and together and want to see some kind of pay-off but they're constantly in competition with bands that think this is their lottery ticket to stardom and will sell themselves very cheap. Like he commented on a local festival, he'd like to play for the local community but it'd have to be almost for free and the other bands don't get play time anywhere else and it would tarnish their reputation. The price tag is mostly about perception, a big name is worth a big price and then you can't act small.

        • If, in your chosen profession, you can't compete against those who do the same thing for no profit, or the same thing as a hobby, or even the same thing as "exposure", you're in the wrong profession.

          • Uhhhh...isn't that the same argument the multinationals make when they claim Americans should be happy to be paid the same as somebody in Bangalore or Beijing? That you should be happy to "compete" with the absolute lowest bottom of the barrel wage slave they can possibly find on the planet?
            • by mrvan ( 973822 )

              Uhhhh...isn't that the same argument the multinationals make when they claim Americans should be happy to be paid the same as somebody in Bangalore or Beijing? That you should be happy to "compete" with the absolute lowest bottom of the barrel wage slave they can possibly find on the planet?

              As long as we (or at least the vast majority of Americans and Europeans) do our shopping by going to the absolute bottom of the retailer barrel (walmart / aldi+lidl) and/or online shopping barrel, I don't think "we" are in a position to complain.

              (and the worst is people who go to a brick&mortar shop to browse and inspect products and get advice, and then buy the thing they selected online because it is 20$ cheaper - since they didn't have to pay the store, the stock, and the somewhat knowledgeable sales

              • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                Apple is more profitable than Xiomi. The race to the bottom doesn't exist in the middle class and above. The race to the bottom only exists in the people who have the choice of the lowest quality cheapest item, or doing without. That we are growing the poor is the race to the bottom, not the ability to buy cheap things.
        • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

          It's like rent-a-coder. You think you could make a side profit doing small projects for people, but then you see how ridiculously low the bids get and realize that it isn't even worth your time. It's more worthwhile to just contribute to an open source project.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

          Sure but is it a race to the bottom?

          Ah, an actual case of begging the question. You are assuming that a race to the bottom is a bad thing. Why is efficiency despised so much? Oh, the government is so inefficient. Oh no, even worse, the government did something efficient!

      • Not just a personal resume, but a corporate resume. Past experience is a huge barrier to entry in gov't contracting, and so this was (will be?) an easy way to get that. It probably would have gone negative if the possibility was in place.

        Anyway, it's all fun and games until the protests are filed and the lawyers get involved.

    • Re:Work for free!! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fragMasterFlash ( 989911 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @07:13PM (#50885357)
      If it builds your reputation then you will likely have additional customers looking to hire you at much more reasonable rates.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, building a reputation of working for a $1.

        Now, the free publicity may be worth it but it could just have as easily gone the other way. In fact, it will when this becomes old news and the next idiot tries it.

        BTW, for all budding entrepreneurs, believe me when I say anyone trying to make you work at subsistence or free, on the basis that it will net you reputation or some such, is just trying to scam free labor off you that will never pay off.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          BTW, for all budding entrepreneurs, believe me when I say anyone trying to make you work at subsistence or free, on the basis that it will net you reputation or some such, is just trying to scam free labor off you that will never pay off.

          There is a difference between someone trying to make you work for free and making a calculated risk to do it yourself. I'm now CTO of a multimillion dollar company. The first 5 years, every cofounder of the company had a day job and helped build the company for free on night and weekends as well as we gave our service away for 5 years as well. It paid off for us. Likewise, many artists, painters, caterers, wedding planners, photographers, barbers, massage therapists, and even lawyers built their portfol

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The first 5 years, every cofounder of the company had a day job and helped build the company for free on night and weekends as well as we gave our service away for 5 years as well. It paid off for us.

            Building a business by offering a free service tier is really very unlike a custom labour contract where the compensation is $1.

            Likewise, many artists, painters, caterers, wedding planners, photographers, barbers, massage therapists,

            A genuine massage therapist is not going to build a portfolio from offering "free massages", bro. They're going to get trained somewhere and they're going to either work in that place or somewhere similar. Ditto for barbers. Painters and photographers get fucked on a regular basis by endless offers of EXPOSURE - if you're doing a job somewhere prestigious enough that it'll wow whoe

            • Building a business by offering a free service tier is really very unlike a custom labour contract where the compensation is $1.

              Right. Exactly 1 dollar different.

            • by pepty ( 1976012 )
              If the offer is exposure - put exposure in the contract. The link to your company goes on their landing page for X months with a guaranteed minimum number of genuine clicks, you get introductions to Y of their clients that meet your criteria, etc. Or just a straight up guarantee of so much new business through the exposure or the contract reverts to cash + 5%.

              If they aren't paying in cash, make certain their payment to you is more valuable to you than the cash price.

              • Even better, have a cash price in there and then have terms in which on an ongoing basis exposure may be used to offset the fees. That way if the company you're working with decides not to provide the exposure they promised (for any reason), the contract simply falls back to its default state rather than changing from a default of exposure to a new cash basis. That may have been the intent - you said "revert", but the structure can make a huge difference when it comes time to collect.

            • A genuine massage therapist is not going to build a portfolio from offering "free massages", bro.

              I've been to many festivals where massage therapists and even chiropractors give a free 5 minute massage. I've also seen deals like buy the first massage, get the 2nd massage free. My cousin is now the most expensive photographer in her town but in order to create a portfolio, she did her first settings free and her first weddings at greatly reduced prices. She was selective, she didn't just give everyone that walked in the door a free wedding session but if it was a big wedding she was willing to do it

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          Yet, so many people volunteer for slavery, I mean "unpaid internship".
    • Yay! Nothing says "success" like working for free. Great job!

      I'd say that Brendan Sudol, the winning bidder, may not have been compensated in dollars, but surely in notoriety. Now he's the first person to have won a contract with the GSA through this reverse auction system. Definitely a nice item in his portfolio.

      • notoriety

        Notoriety means being famous for something bad. I don't think that's what you meant.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Charging money for an open source product wouldn't make any sense anyway, since its open license would make it available to everyone and then some leech would undoubtedly use your unmodified code to undercut your bid without adding any value.

      Instead, an open source product should always be offered for the smallest amount that constitutes a legal sale, and then income generated by supporting it for perpetuity. Leeches don't do support, they have no backbone.

      • by pepty ( 1976012 )
        The support contract would either be bid out separately or part of the original contract. So: Congratulations! You owe the federal government perpetual support for $1.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You don't understand how this works. You sell the software for $1 as the lowest bidder to the government and sell the security holes to the highest bidder. "Open Source" makes this a bit tricky: you need to be good enough that discovering the security hole is hard.

      An excellent example is elliptic curve cryptography in NSA style: you construct the security hole by calculating instead of randomly choosing the constants the method depends on. Nobody can prove that you cheated and the source code does not co

    • Working for free is ridiculous. Good thing he's getting paid.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      $1 isn't free, and if the request was for code that already exists, why wouldn't someone bid $1 to present the (already existing open source) code?

      Though it was apparently done by a proper company, so now they have a "win" on their record, which makes it eaiser to win in the future (though not in the reverse auction system), and may help with things like funding.
  • and you thought off-shore was the race to the bottom?
  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @07:08PM (#50885341)

    I initially read it as $1B

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      After projected cost overruns, it'll be above $1B.
    • You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder.
      Makes you feel good, doesn't it?

      • Funny quote, but meeting technical specifications and passing NDT are part of the procurement process. Fail those, and you're on the hook for making new parts or refunding the government (assuming they paid already), as well as fines for missing deadlines, and possible loss of future contracts.

        • by hawk ( 1151 )

          that's going to be one heck of a refund . . ..

          "Hey, anyone have change for a quarter?"

          hawk

  • by frnic ( 98517 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @07:20PM (#50885379)

    Next up is a reverse bid on a Multi-Purpose Fighter Jet, they are expect the winning bid to be between $5 and $10...

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @07:53PM (#50885495)

    And then, when all competent contenders are out of the picture, prices raise and quality drops. This is _not_ a problem where a capitalist competitive approach is a good idea, as this is not about standardized products that a lot of people can produce.

    • A simple piece of code to load data from a well-defined file format, with a provided suite of tests to verify that your code does what it's supposed to?

      That's a pretty standardized product that a lot of people can produce.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Seriously? Well, with lack of insight like that it is no surprise so much code sucks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It reminds me of trying to bid for jobs on sites like Elance. I'll read a brand new RFP and spend 5 minutes putting together a ballpark estimate. By the time I reply to the posting, it already has 20+ bids from "Doing the Needful Associates" and "Hyderabad Professional Services" bidding down to $5 on something I would have quoted $200 for (and been cheating myself even at that rate). It's futile to even attempt bidding.

  • I wonder if this low bid method of getting a government contract will lead to Oracle like maintenance costs in upcoming years. If their software is locked in what's to stop this from happening?
  • This is a match that does make sense; if you are a college student, you need evidence that you can produce worthwhile material. By producing open source software, you get a reputation that will make you seriously employable. Given you are going to work free anyway, you might as well produce something that is meaningful, as opposed to a piece of software which noone but your professor ever gets to see.
  • The code requirements:

    Code must display the text "Hello World!" on the screen, followed by a line saying "Press to continue". The code will then read a text file containing the names Charlie, Art, and Barbara and sort them into alphabetical order.

  • by Timex ( 11710 ) <smithadminNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday November 07, 2015 @08:25PM (#50885627) Journal

    One dollar for the program. Okay. That's bragging rights.

    How much is the support contract?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Anyone can bid for the support contract, but only one company will be qualified, lol.. (guess who they choose)

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      $1B of course. They copied the razor model. Razor is dirt cheap. Blades are expensive.

  • by asifyoucare ( 302582 ) on Saturday November 07, 2015 @10:47PM (#50886045)
    If this is like most large government projects, the official bid is just the beginning. The spec is always incomplete on large projects, and every little increment in scope can be charged at commercial rates. I think the bidder will make money and plenty of it.
  • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @02:27AM (#50886527)
    Many of us know the term FOSS (Free Open Source Software). Even at $1, the government is still overpaying for open-source software.
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Many of us know the term FOSS (Free Open Source Software). Even at $1, the government is still overpaying for open-source software.

      Maybe, but that's if the government was buying an existing software package. This is new development - in other words, a developer bid $1 to do the required development the government wants. Not sure if it's new code for a new program, or customizations to an existing program, but $1 is a steal for that.

      Imagine being able to demand a project add a bunch of code to do what you wa

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    It's a government contract. It's pretty much guaranteed to go over budget! By the time they're done, they could easily be 2-3 times over their original budget!
  • Maybe now someone can fix Obamacare and write a backend for it that works the way it's supposed to.

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