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Maj. Gen. Patrick G. Higby, director for DevOps and lethality in the Office of the USAF assistant secretary for acquisition, Al Mink, former AFCEA NOVA president and current managing partner at Systems Spirit, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee, USA military deputy to the ​chief information officer/G-6, appear on a panel during AFCEA’s Air Force IT Day in Tysons in Virginia on Dec. 4. AFCEA NOVA photo.

The Air Force is launching a new initiative to quickly buy technology products and services from small businesses and pay for them the same day with a government debit card.

BlueSHIFT, under which companies will submit proposals no longer than a few pages along with a 15 minute pitch, is designed to circumvent the months-long conventional procurement process, which often means that IT is outdated by the time it finds its way into hands of personnel on the front lines, said Maj. Gen. Patrick Higby, the director for DevOps and lethality in the office of the USAF assistant secretary for acquisition.

It also will help the service unlock the power of innovation possessed by startups and other small companies, he said during AFCEA’s Air Force IT Day in Tysons in Virginia on Tuesday.

Speaking to a room full of defense industry executives, Higby said the Air Force had to solve its “rollercoaster” problem. He comparing the conventional acquisition process to an amusement park sign saying, “You must be this big to ride,” acknowledging that under the current system newcomers without the experience and resources to navigate the procurement maze often are excluded.

Such small companies “see us as this huge complex bureaucracy,” he told Air Force Magazine after his presentation. “The Air Force has done outreach to small business before,” he added. The difference with BlueSHIFT, he said, is that it won’t be “at the margins.” 

“We want these companies working on our really big problems,” he said.

The project will hold a two-day Shark Tank-style event in March in New York, he said, where it will hear pitches from companies. “After that presentation, if we like what we hear, we’ll swipe the [government purchase] card and ‘Congratulations! You are partnered with the US Air Force!’”

Last month, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said​ the service planned to spend $40 million at the event.