18F, a digital services agency within the US government, has done a lot of work on how government can write contracts to allow for the use of agile methodologies in a way consistent with the law, specifying general results rather than detailed requirements for how the work is to be done. Some of their resources include:
An advantage of agile work methods is that they focus on discovering a solution to a problem after the contract is awarded, that is, during post-award execution, rather than specifying the detailed solution up front as with Part 15. An agile contract tries to specify problems requiring detailed solutions, often as Product Backlog Items that describe high level contract delivery areas.
Understanding this problem, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Federal Procurement Policy directed agencies to stop using SOWs and shift to using a Performance Work Statement (PWS) for acquiring services. A PWS “should state requirements in general terms of what (result) is to be done, rather than how (method) it is done” Good contracting officers advise agencies that by buying expert services, it implies that you’re not the most knowledgeable in “how” work is done. As the mission owner, you are the expert in “what,” must get accomplished, but conflating the two puts your mission at risk and makes it harder for a contract to provide value.
Fundamentally, the approach is more like hiring a service provider to work with you to design a solution, rather than listing pages of detailed specifications in advance. The institution wouldn't hire an architect to design a new building by listing out "the design must be four stories, with a roof pitch of 37º. The third floor must have a 237 sqft kitchen containing four florescent light fixtures, controlled by a motion-sensitive light switch, in a drop ceiling." Rather, they would have a contract for the architect to provide design services in consultation with the client, and rely on their vendor, an expert in the field, to produce the resulting deliverables.
While the details will depend on the institution and the procurement policies and laws that apply, it does show that, amid all the failures of large government IT projects, there are groups working to move public tenders for software development over to more modern agile methodologies, given enough political will and trustworthy development partners. It does take a major shift in how such projects are conceived and managed (including a lot of ongoing time providing user feedback throughout the process), which the organization may or may not have any interest in pursuing.