USAF pays first startup using GPC

February 12, 2019
Jordyn Fetter

AUSTIN, TX–The Air Force facilitated it’s first transfer of funds to a startup company with a government purchase card following the issue of a $59,994 Small Business Innovation Research contract on Feb. 2, 2019.

The purchase, dubbed “BlueSHIFT,” was made by AFWERX Austin contracting personnel and enabled by a collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Installation Contracting Agency, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

BlueSHIFT is a complete about-face from the typical acquisition and payment process for research contracts which typically lasts months due to lengthy paperwork requirements and complex coordination between engineering, program management, and contracting personnel.

Conversely, GenXComm, a Texas startup information and communications technology company at the receiving end of this momentous initiative, was only required to submit a five-page proposal and make a 15-page presentation in response to a SBIR topic about immersive learning before being awarded the contract and receiving funding.

“For our big bureaucracy, awarding a contract in months is a flash,” said Will Roper, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “For startups living hand-to-mouth, it’s an eternity. The Air Force must do business at the speed of ideas: inspiring and accelerating startup creativity toward national security challenges. The smaller the company, the faster we must get them on contract.”

Though contracting officers are currently authorized to pay out contracts up to $250 thousand with a government purchase card, institutionalized precautions have led to the default of making payments through Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which lengthens the process.

The BlueSHIFT concept, formally announced in December 2018 by Roper and directly in line with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson’s priority of fostering a culture of innovation within the service, was developed as a way to circumvent the traditional contract payment process and to encourage smaller companies to think of the Air Force first when looking for a customer.

The announcement came shortly after the Air Force awarded 104 contract in 40 hours in October 2018, surpassing any record previously made in the service. Of those 104 contracts, GenXComm’s payment was kept on hold for the potential of using it to make the first BlueSHIFT, which was ultimately achieved Feb. 1, 2019.

Come time for Air Force Pitch Day on March 6 and 7, the service will be prepared to demonstrate the full capabilities of BlueSHIFT when they attempt to both award and fund up to $40 million in contracts by the end of the event and kickstart the revamped acquisition process.

“Mind-blowing ideas are being birthed in U.S. start-up companies, but the Pentagon largely misses out on them,” Roper said in a statement. “We have to do business at the speed of ideas so we can both inspire and accelerate startup creativity towards national security challenges.”