The General Services Administration is building an internal unit intended to solve IT problems for other agencies, the agency announced last week.

The new group, called 18F (after the GSA’s headquarters location at 18th and F streets in Northwest Washington), is comprised of designers, software developers and others recruited from both the public and private sectors.

The new team plans to partner with government agencies to help deliver better digital services, according to an 18F blog. Using open-source code, the unit will deploy working prototypes for software, and will either build new technology for agencies, consult with agencies on existing technology, or help agencies buy new technology, according to the blog.

The GSA also plans to involve members of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, a partnership between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the GSA.

Harris Corp. opens facility in Northern Virginia

Telecommunications contractor Harris Corp. last week opened a new facility in Herndon, consolidating seven of its other Northern Virginia facilities.

The new building is six stories and spans 160,000 square feet. About 500 employees moved from the other seven facilities — two each in Chantilly and Falls Church, and one each in Dulles, Fairfax and Reston. Harris employs nearly 1,700 people in Virginia.

The new facility will also house Harris’ integrated network solutions and government communications systems businesses.

InfoZen wins contract to make immigration paperless

Bethesda-based software and IT contractor InfoZen won a $12 million prime contract to help the Department of Homeland Security transition to a paperless immigration system.

The three-year contract will help Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency overseeing immigration, implement electronic processes, according to the company. InfoZen plans to use open source software that can be reused in other agency processes.

“We believe it can be a model for other agencies looking to leverage agile software development practices,” said Raj Ananthanpillai, InfoZen’s chairman, president and chief executive.

InfoZen has provided IT services to several federal agencies and departments as a subcontractor, including the Justice Department, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Hispanic Chamber helps with contracting process

During its annual business expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last week, the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce held several panel discussions intended to help business owners navigate the bidding process for government contracts.

At one, Michael Kelly, the procurement manager for the division of financial management at the Federal Reserve Board, advised business owners to emphasize their own competencies when bidding for contracts, instead of simply offering services for a lower price than competitors.

“We’re looking at how you mitigate risk,” Kelly said.

Anthony Ruiz, an assistant district director for business development at the Small Business Administration, urged small businesses to show patience before applying for the SBA’s 8A business development program, which aims to help small, disadvantaged businesses win contracts.

Many of the businesses Ruiz has worked with join the nine-year program too early and spend the first few years learning basic business skills, such as marketing, Ruiz said. Instead, they should join after they prove they can generate several millions of dollars in revenue, so they can spend the full nine years using their status to pursue meaningful work.

Though roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, Hispanic-owned small businesses won about 8.4 percent of government awards to small businesses in 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.