When officials go shopping for services, they want to find the best bargains in the market.

Here’s an idea from the USA: an app that shows officials the latest prices to hire vendors. A team in the United States Government has built a tool called CALC that does exactly this.

Officials can do a quick search for the service they want, and it returns the average hourly price and a catalogue of vendors that have been hired in the past.

Results can be narrowed based on the level of education, years of experience, the size of the vendor, worksite and more. The search is backed by data from over 5,000 recent government contracts.

While apps are commonly built for citizens, CALC goes to show that they can also be used by governments internally.

CALC screenshot

But would an app like this work in Asia?

It would mean that officials will no longer have to go through paper contracts one at a time. They would be able to make more informed decisions on who to request bids from, and what prices to negotiate with them.

If the tool is made publicly available as CALC is, even citizens can track how much governments are paying vendors.

How was it built? Officials at the 18F digital services unit and General Services Administration came together for the project.

The app was built in “short sprints”, using the agile software development approach to constantly iterate with user feedback, writes Dr Steve Kelman, Professor of Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School. The technical challenge was exporting large amounts of contract data – over 48,000 services – into the app.

While shopping for government vendors is not (yet) as easy as Amazon or eBay, a price finding tool is the next best thing.

Here is a link to CALC: calc.gsa.gov.