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New GSA Pricing Rule Met with Wariness from Industry

The General Service Administration’s (GSA) proposal to amend acquisition rules to collect contractor pricing information is raising concerns across industry. The change was proposed in March 2015, and a public meeting was held mid-April to discuss the impact. 

The March 2015 Federal Register announcement explained that, “GSA is creating a Common Acquisition Platform (CAP), an online marketplace to identify best-in-class contracts issued by GSA or other agencies, best practices, and other information agencies need to reduce the proliferation of duplicative contract vehicles and deliver the best value possible to federal customers and the American people. A critical component of the CAP, and smarter buying in general, is the availability of the prices previously paid by other government buyers for a similar product or service under similar terms and conditions. Government buyers will be able to use that data, in combination with other relevant information—such as customer satisfaction with the performance of the contractor-furnished solution—to determine fair and reasonable pricing as part of a best value solution.”

The proposed rule would introduce a transactional data reporting clause that would support GSA’s price analysis and better determine reasonable pricing for Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) and non-FSS vehicles. This clause would take immediate effect for GSA’s government-wide non-FSS vehicles. FSS vehicles would introduce the change in phases. Although government customers have benefited from price reductions in the past, these have typically resulted from voluntary clauses like market rate pricing, rather than from mandatory customer tracking. GSA completed analysis of modifications for nine of its FSS contracts from October 1, 2013 until August 4, 2014. These contract vehicles included several favored by agencies for IT products and services: Schedule 70, Mission Oriented Business Integrated Solutions (MOBIS), and Professional Engineering Services. Findings from this analysis revealed that only about 3 percent of price reductions were linked to the customer tracking. Most decreases (around 78 percent) resulted from adjustments to commercial pricelists and market rate changes. GSA concluded that the findings supported attempting a different approach to making better pricing available.

During the public meeting on April 17, leadership from GSA indicated that the changes to acquisition rules would help the agency clear hurdles it faces with growing contracts, price variation across vehicles, lack of transparency and outdated guidelines. Once the transactional data reporting clause is implemented, the organization anticipates benefits including better pricing, administrative savings, increased opportunities for small business participation, and standardization of practice. GSA’s Kevin Youel-Page informed attendees that in early May the Federal Acquisition Service will launch an improved automated price reductions tool for schedule contract holders. 

Federal News Radio and FCW reported on reactions from industry, suggesting a mixed reception. Despite cautious optimism, concerns persist around the security of vendor data, the cost of information collection systems, as well as potential unintended consequences related to new policies. The Common Acquisition Platform is one of several efforts GSA has introduced to improve federal acquisition. Other initiatives including activities aligned with contract data analysis and category management. As these projects work to deliver greater savings to government buyers, GSA leadership has expressed interest in working with industry to better understand the burdens and implications of adopting an increasingly data-driven approach to acquisition.

 

Originally published for Federal Industry Analysis: Analysts Perspectives Blog. Stay ahead of the competition by discovering more about GovWinIQ. Follow me on twitter @FIAGovWin.

 

HHS is a Major Player in the Move toward Agile Acquisition

HHS is helping to lead the way toward more agile acquisition of IT. Outgoing HHS CTO, Brian Syvak, recruited Mark Naggar to start the HHS Buyers Club and blaze a trail for more innovative acquisition in the agency. The Buyers Club brings together HHS procurement professionals to discuss and test innovative purchasing ideas. 

 

Naggar used the Digital Services Playbook for the first HHS Buyers Club procurement, redesign of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation’s (ASPE) public and intranet websites.  Vendors were only required to submit an eight-page concept paper after which five were chosen to proceed by creating prototypes.  This procurement concept allows vendors to show the federal buyer “what they can do” rather than writing about it in a lengthy proposal.  Naggar involved all of the stakeholders and significantly shortened the procurement cycle. 

 

In an interview with FedScoop Naggar said, "So often we're focused on getting something awarded and there's not enough attention focused on implementation, which is why we're trying to switch from waterfall to agile."

 

The waterfall method traditionally used for procurement and development has proven to be time-consuming, costly, and has not delivered what agencies truly need. So often, agencies don’t realize they’re headed down the wrong path until large sums of money have already been spent on a project.  "It's basically, 'Congratulations, you won the award,' they drop the mic and walk out of the room. And in six months you get something and realize it's not what you wanted, not what you needed," Naggar told FedScoop.  An agile approach dramatically mitigates risk and delivers results faster.

 

Naggar feels so strongly about government-wide acquisition innovation and reform that he organized a Conference for Innovative Acquisitions in February of this year.  The conference was sponsored by the Federal-wide Buyers Club with help from OFPP, the US Digital Service, and GSA and its 18F team.  The attendance of over a thousand government employees and contractors showed that Naggar is not alone in his quest to re-invent federal acquisition. 

One goal of the innovative acquisition movement is to change the federal government’s aversion to risk.  Although current procurement methods have been shown to be ineffective, federal procurement officials are trained to be good stewards of taxpayer funds.  Failure is not an option.  The private sector realized long ago that failure is part of innovation using the adage "fail fast, fail often."

Anne Rung, OFPP administrator and strong supporter of innovative acquisition, said at a recent conference, "We don't tolerate any kind of perceived failure. And people immediately walk away and resort to the old way of doing things."

The President’s FY 2016 Budget Request calls for more digital services teams and idea labs modeled after HHS across the federal government.  With such strong support from top officials and buy-in from the procurement ranks, we are likely to see increased use of innovative acquisition methods in the coming months and for years to come. 

 

Federal Acquisition Improvement Takes Aim at IT

With over 3,300 contract units across the government, collaborating to share information and best practices can be challenging. Back in December 2014, the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) described near-term to transform federal procurement. 

OFPP administrator Anne Rung’s memo to federal agencies outlined current priorities to transform government buying. These areas include category management, acquisition workforce and processes, and government-industry communication. Milestones for many of the efforts and actions associated with these areas will be approaching in the next few months. 

Category Management

OFPP aims to shift from managing government purchases and prices individually to establishing categories for common spending and costs. Unnecessary duplication of contracts across government for similar goods and services burdens vendors with proposal preparation costs and administrative expenses, which can have a significant impact on small businesses. This shift in government buying includes promotion of strategic sourcing, in particular looking to optimize the $25 billion the government spends annually on commodity IT. To support this push, the General Services Administration is cataloging prices paid for IT goods and providing access to contract details for related products to highlight best practices. 

Talent Management and Innovation

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and OFPP are taking steps to encourage adoption of best practices within government purchasing of digital services and fostering innovation. These steps have included releasing a draft of the TechFAR Handbook and exploring case studies of resourceful contracting practices. OSTP and OFPP are collaborating on a plan to increase the government’s digital acquisition capabilities. To further support these efforts, the U.S. Digital Services is expected to launch a pilot program for training agency personnel in digital acquisition. One of the areas targeted for these activities is agile development. 

Strengthen Government-Industry Relationships

OFPP is developing an approach to improve communication between government and industry. Guidance is in the works to allow open feedback from industry on acquisition process improvement and to identify trends and issues. The guidance will shape Acquisition 360, an effort to formalize the agency collection of feedback related to acquisition processes and identify areas for improvement. The focus on strengthening relationships includes establishing enterprise-wide vendor managers, a step that will begin with recruiting vendor managers to support relationships with key IT commercial contractors. 

While these efforts will address all government buying, near-term efforts are zeroing in on agency IT. In particular, activities related to category management are expected to really dig into how agencies are buying technology products and services. It is worth noting, however, that the plans associated with this transformation initiative do not paint a picture of a sudden, new reality. Rather, they suggest ongoing activities to strategically reshape the landscape of government acquisition. As these current transformation efforts continue, pockets of advancement in different contracting organizations will contribute to gradual change across the government.

 

Originally published for Federal Industry Analysis: Analysts Perspectives Blog. Stay ahead of the competition by discovering more about GovWinIQ. Follow me on twitter @FIAGovWin.

 

GAO Updates High Risk Programs List

Yesterday, GAO released its biennial update of federal high risk programs, a total of 32 programs including two new areas, Veterans Health Care and IT Acquisitions and Operations.

Since the list’s inception in 1990 with an initial slate of 14 program areas, 43 programs have been added and 23 removed.  GAO removes programs from the list when the following criteria are met: leadership commitment, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress.

This year GAO states that progress is being made, but no programs were removed.  Eighteen of the 30 programs on the list in 2013 partially met criteria for removal and 11 met at least one of the criteria for removal.  GAO is reducing the scope of two high risk areas, Protecting Public Health through Enhanced Oversight of Medical Products and DoD Contract Management, due improvements made.  GAO is expanding its oversight of two other programs due to growing risk potential:  Enforcement of Tax Laws and Ensuring the Security of Federal Information Systems and Cyber Critical Infrastructure and Protecting the Privacy of Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

GAO is adding the program entitled Managing Risks and Improving Veterans Affairs Health Care due to VA’s lack of action on many of GAO’s past recommendations to improve veteran health care access and delivery.  Although VA has taken some action, work still remains in the areas of policies and processes, oversight and accountability, IT, training, and resources.

GAO is also adding the program entitled Improving the Management of Information Technology Acquisitions and Operations.  Despite legislation and administrative efforts to improve IT acquisitions and management, investments are still experiencing cost overruns, schedule lapses, and failure in some cases.  According to GAO’s report, “Over the past 5 years, GAO made more than 730 recommendations; however, only about 23% had been fully implemented as of January 2015.”

Efforts to improve IT acquisition and management will directly affect federal contractors, adding to increased scrutiny of contractor performance and potentially increasing required project performance documentation. Additionally, program areas such as those that are benefits based, may offer opportunities for technology contractors.  Federal demand for IT solutions to combat waste, fraud and abuse will continue to increase over the next several years.  Such products and services include technologies for pre-screening and identity authentication; data capture and processing; examination and detection; big data and analytics; and investigation, prosecution and recovery.

Through Congressional oversight and legislation, along with OMB leadership and agency accountability and corrective actions, vast improvements have been made to areas remaining on the high risk list.  Continued diligence by agencies in implementing GAO recommendations will lead to continued progress and elimination of federal program areas from the list.  

 

Acquisition of the Future -- The Big “A”

A growing group of government acquisition professionals, CIOs and industry leaders are joining a movement to reinvent federal acquisition.

The movement known as Acquisition of the Future (AOF), aspires to build “efficiencies and drive results” in federal procurement and acquisition by developing new procedures and implementing new technologies.  Social media, APIs, and modular IT technologies are replacing paper and even some internet capabilities, according to ASI Government’s CEO Kymm McCabe, a proponent of the movement.  These technologies and innovative online services are changing the way companies do business in the private sector.  Government stands to benefit by embracing similar change when it comes to the acquisition process.  “That's why we're creating a movement to envision what the "Big A" Acquisition function looks like, tomorrow and beyond,” according to material published on the group’s site.

Rather than joining the current acquisition reform ranks, McCabe suggests in a recent article, “Let’s stop trying to fix the current, antiquated system. Instead, let’s build in a new direction through common goals to create more value, modern technologies and business models, and a work environment that will draw talent to perform some of the most complex, important and impactful jobs in our country.”   

AOF is in the process of developing a free, open and sharable Transformation Framework and Guide.  The group wants to cultivate a common vision and developmental framework for the fragmented acquisition community. AOF is also collecting information on innovative acquisition initiatives already in development to share on their soon-to-be-launched collaboration site.  The site will allow acquisition and industry professionals to learn from each other and their innovative acquisition approaches.

AOF isn't pushing specific technologies, but wants to nurture an environment where the constant influx of technologies can be evaluated for their potential impact on the acquisition process.  Additionally, a newer workforce will expect and demand adoption of new approaches and technologies in the acquisition process.

Join the conversation by visiting www.acquisitionofthefuture.org or contacting aof@asigovt.com.

 

 

FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Set to Pass

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015 has crossed a major hurdle to passage before the end of the calendar year as a House-Senate compromise bill has emerged. The final bill has implications for information technology acquisition and management at the Pentagon and beyond.

The legislation is a combination of two bills that each passed last May: HR 4435, which passed the full House, and S 2410, which passed in the Senate Armed Services Committee. As is typical, this year’s NDAA goes well beyond funding of national defense operations to include organizational and acquisition reform efforts and information technology priorities. Below is an overview of the high points of the bill.

Overview

  • Authorizes $521.3 billion in base discretionary defense spending and an additional $63.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), reflecting the President’s initial request of $58.6 billion and the additional request of $5.1 billion to primarily cover counter-ISIL operations. The FY ‘15 NDAA is $48.0 billion less than the enacted FY ‘14 NDAA.
  • Does not reflect a proposed BRAC round as requested by the Administration, citing concerns that previous rounds did not yield the promised savings but rather imposed large up-front costs only to shift property between federal agencies. The current flux of military size and structure is also cited as a reason to postpone a BRAC round.
  • Selectively supports some White House proposals – like limited compensation increases for military personnel, including a for a pay freeze for General and Flag Officers – while adjusting others – like replacing a 5% reduction in basic allowance for housing (BAH) with a 1% decrease. This NDAA also blocks retirement of the A-10 aircraft, but provides for some reprogramming of those funds to higher priorities if needed.

Reform Efforts

  • Restores the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) to an independent status, reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense, and increases the ONA budget for FY ‘15 by $10 million to $18.9 million
  • Directs the SECDEF to report on the feasibility of reducing or consolidating combatant command functions by FY20 and a plan to implement a periodic review and analysis of management headquarters. This NDAA would also task GAO with assessing the DoD’s headquarter reduction efforts as part of GAO’s previous work assessing HQ growth.
  • Directs the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, (USD (AT&L)) and senior acquisition executives for the Navy and the Air Force to issue DoD-wide policies implementing a standard checklist to be completed before issuing a solicitation for any new contract for services or exercising an option under an existing services contract. The FY ‘08 NDAA established an annual services contracts inventory requirement that DoD has yet to fully implement.
  • As a cost-control mechanism, the bill requires the Comptroller General to conduct a review of cases in which an acquisition program office believes that the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has required testing above the required test plan.
  • Directs the SECDEF to provide the congressional defense committees with frequent reports on DoD’s damage assessment resulting from unauthorized disclosures of classified information and steps the Department is taking to mitigate the damage.
  • Provides for an overhaul of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process to produce a new Defense Strategy Review that is more long-term and strategic in nature and a more useful oversight tool.

Information Technology and Cyber Operations

  • Directs the President to maintain a list of nation-states or individuals that engage in economic or industrial espionage using cyber tools, and allows for the President to impose sanctions on such individuals or nation-states
  • Directs the SECDEF to designate an executive agency for cyber test ranges and another for cyber training ranges to better coordinate and resource each
  • Requires the development of a Major Force Program for cyber to better account for the budgeting and resourcing of cyber operations capabilities
  • Requires mandatory reporting on penetrations of operationally critical contractor networks
  • Requires the development and implementation of operational metrics for the performance of the Joint Information Environment (JIE)
  • Implements the Federal Information Technology Reform Act (FITARA) that has stalled and been removed from last year’s NDAA, according to Nextgov. FITARA will give additional budgetary and management authorities to agency CIOs, although no so much in the DoD. Nextgov also notes that the NDAA also supports federal data center consolidation efforts, the DoD’s move to cloud computing, and a plan to expand the use special IT acquisition experts.

While the final bill still needs to pass both the full House and Senate and be signed by the president, the FITARA provisions should not be a major reason for a presidential veto, according to a Federal News Radio interview with some members of Congress.  

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Originally published for Federal Industry Analysis: Analysts Perspectives Blog. Stay ahead of the competition by discovering more about 
GovWin FIA. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

 

Raising the Stakes of Contractor Past Performance Information

Contractor past performance information is one tool federal agencies are being pressed to use more effectively to guard against acquisition risk and recent White House acquisition policy and a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment signals that the pressure in this area will only continue to grow. Some efforts are fairly standard government approaches, but others expand into new areas and have implications for both agencies and their contracting companies.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) has issued numerous reporting compliance guidelines and recommendations over the last half-decade or more to move agencies to improve their reporting of contractor past performance. Further, Congress has included past performance reporting mandates in the last several National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA). In typical fashion, GAO is looking for continued signs that these efforts are materializing so that agencies have this information available to make informed acquisition decisions.

Most Agencies Fall Short of Contractor Past Performance Reporting Compliance Targets

In August, the GAO released an assessment of how federal agencies were doing with regard to improving their reporting of contractor past performance information. According to OFPP’s annual reporting performance targets, agencies should have been at least 65 percent compliant by the end of fiscal year 2013. GAO found that agencies generally have improved their level of compliance with past performance reporting requirements issued by OFPP. However, the rate of compliance varies widely by agency and most have not met OFPP targets. As of April 2014, for the top 10 agencies, based on the number of contracts requiring an evaluation, the compliance rate ranged from 13 to 83 percent and only two of the top 10 agencies were above 65 percent compliance. (See chart below.)


 

OFPP Expanding Scope of Contractor Past Performance Information

In July, the OFPP directed agencies to research past performance more deeply before awarding complex IT development, systems and services contracts greater than $500 thousand in value. Further, OFPP directed agencies to expand the scope of the research processes used to collect contractors’ past performance information during source selection.

In order to have the most relevant, recent, and meaningful information about potential contracting partners considered in the pre-award phase of the acquisition process agencies were instructed to have their acquisition officials perform the following steps:

  • Recent Contracts - Contact contracting officers (COs) and/or Program Managers (PMs) on at least 2 of contractors’ largest, most recent contracts to review work history.
  • News Searches – a Review articles and publications (include. GAO and IG reports) on contractor performance and business integrity.
  • Commercial Sources - Review public sources and databases for business reviews, customer evaluations, contractor management reports, etc.
  • References – a Request 3-5 references from public and commercial customers, partners, subcontractors, etc. for work done in past 3-5 years.
  • Teaming Partners – Request past performance information on subcontractors and team arrangements.

Implications

The impacts on agencies and contractors alike include greater time and effort (i.e. expense) in collecting and providing this performance information. This will stretch an already-overly-tasked federal acquisitions workforce even further and will require that contractors pay broader attention to their performance reputations and those of their teaming partners.

The new OFPP directives and others like them will also likely extend the time it takes to complete the source selection process on applicable acquisitions, at least until all sides of the acquisition process build some repeatable processes and efficiencies into their systems.

What we can hope for in the end is more transparency, better managed acquisitions with fewer protests, and overall better performing contracts that meet the government’s goals with economy and efficiency and provide business growth opportunities along the way.

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

Justice to Streamline IT Buying through Service Broker

In the coming year, the Justice Department will join the ranks of agencies leveraging service broker arrangements for acquisition of IT infrastructure and services.

In recent years, Department of Justice (DOJ) has progressed efforts to consolidate contracts, reducing redundancy of acquisition efforts and improving enterprise capabilities. Some of these initiatives began as informal strategic sourcing efforts. The department has actively leveraged Enterprise License Agreements (ELAs) and Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) to achieve cost savings. The majority of the department’s mobile device and wireless services were consolidated through several contract vehicles. By leveraging strategic sourcing and shared services for wireless and telecom needs, DOJ can lower equipment expenditures by moving to contracts with best negotiated prices.

Now, it seems that the Justice Department is taking the next step by pursuing service broker. Other federal agencies that have adopted a service broker model include Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). These broker arrangements allow agencies to identify solutions for common requirements and simplify technology buying within organizations.

According to recent reports, DOJ expects to target infrastructure and commodity IT services initially. These technologies would include wide area network (WAN), data centers, storage, email, telecommunications, security, and Trusted Internet Connection (TIC) services. The “next tier” of services that would be addressed, according to Justice’s CIO Klimavicz, cover business enterprise services, such as voice and collaboration.

The decision to formally adopt service brokerage aligns with the department’s strategic plans and technology initiatives. For a number of years, DOJ has actively leveraged Enterprise Level Agreements and Blanket Purchase Agreements to achieve cost savings. In 2012, Justice established ten commodity area working groups focus on IT functions, like data centers, email, and mobility. These groups provide recommendations to the DOJ CIO Council to address commodity investment areas, to identify potential for consolidation and cost savings, as well as to manage milestone and performance metrics.

DOJ’s near term information resource planning highlights 5 goals including institutionalizing IT portfolio management, streamlining operations, enhancing IT security, delivering innovative solutions, and expanding information sharing. The shift to centralized delivery of IT capabilities, such as multi-component (enterprise) IT services, and use of enterprise platforms is expected to drive greater value than silo solutions. Ongoing assessments and continuous enhancement of existing IT assets and vendor relationships will improve the value of the IT portfolio by evaluating the risks of adopting new technologies too soon or sustaining legacy technology for too long.

Brokerage would facilitate increased use of shared services, enable enterprise capabilities, and consolidate departmental purchasing power to improve pricing through strategic sourcing. The Department of Justice’s vision for strategic sourcing has led to the establishment of a Vendor Management Office (VMO) targeting improvement of buying practices for IT infrastructure. The VMO will lead efforts to analyze procurement data, to identify best practices, and to centralize enterprise procurement vehicles.

As with other federal markets being impacted by strategic sourcing, vendors will need to be increasingly mindful of market positioning. IT spending will be increasingly directed through agencies strategic sourcing and preferred contract vehicles, but that shift inhibits spending as government organizations look to achieve economies of scale for commodity IT purchases. The establishment of Vendor Management Offices means contractors can expect increased oversight and greater need to partner smartly.

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @FIAGovWin.

 

The U.S. Digital Service – “Hey, Mikey!”

Walking the halls of the West Wing in a rumpled casual button-up shirt, Mikey Dickerson’s mission as the Administrator for the new U.S. Digital Service is “to improve and simplify the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.”

Mikey’s name immediately brought back memories for me of Life Cereal’s Mikey commercials in the early 1970s.  The line “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” came to mind.  And in the same way Life was bringing to market a new cereal that was good for you, the federal government is trying to break down barriers to ignite innovation. 

Mikey is different from the typical Washington government leader, from his casual attire to his unassuming name.  What he brings to the table is experience, knowledge, speed and out-of-the-box thinking.  He’s not weighed down by bureaucratic work experience.  He comes from a more nibble environment which the White House hopes to bestow across government. 

Mikey’s first foray into government was last year as part of the Healthcare.gov rescue team.  The aim of the U.S. Digital Service is to build on the success of that effort by bringing a small team of America’s best digital experts together to collaborate with other government agencies and make websites more consumer friendly, identify and fix problems, and help upgrade the government’s technology infrastructure.

The White House press release announcing the establishment of the U.S. Digital Service states that it will accomplish its mission by:

  • Establishing standards to bring the government’s digital services in line with the best private sector services  
  • Identifying common technology patterns that will help us scale services effectively  
  • Collaborating with agencies to identify and address gaps in their capacity to design, develop, deploy and operate excellent citizen-facing services  
  • Providing accountability to ensure agencies see results

During a testimony in May, federal CIO Steve VanRoekel called the idea of a U.S. Digital Service a "centralized, world-class capability...made up of our country’s brightest digital talent."  This team will be "charged with

removing barriers to exceptional government service delivery and remaking the digital experiences that citizens and businesses have with their government."

 

To get to know Mikey better, click here to watch the White House’s video “Day One: Mikey Dickerson, U.S. Digital Service Administrator.”  I find his demeanor and persona refreshing.  He states in the video that a lot of people want to know if he’s wearing a suit every day.  It’s their way of asking, “is this the same old business as usual or are they (the government) actually going to listen.”  His philosophy, as well as that of much of Silicon Valley, is that innovation doesn’t happen in a suit.

 

Federal Acquisitions – Challenges on Both Sides of the Equation

The federal acquisition landscape and procurement processes are complex, to say the least, and people on both sides of the process – government and industry – have their own perspectives on what works and what could be better. At an industry event focusing on federal acquisitions, the similarities and difference in perspective among both sides of the equation made it clear that the challenges to improve federal acquisitions will persist for some time.

Recently, I attended AFCEA International’s Defense Acquisition Modernization Symposium: "Better Buying Power: Do We Have It Right?"  The two-day event featured several keynote presentations from current government acquisition leaders, like Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, as well as former government leaders and industry professionals with insight into the current and future state of the federal acquisition environment and best practices. Approximately 70% of the attendees were government personnel and most of them were from the federal acquisition community, which gave the symposium a different tenor than so many industry events that are predominately attended by those from industry.

In his opening keynote, Frank Kendall outlined his thoughts on where he would like to see acquisitions headed, including better aligning contract incentives with performance so that profit follows performance. He also wants to build stronger partnerships with the industry community to improve both acquisitions as well as the solutions government is procuring. For his part, Kendall does not see acquisition as the source of the problem for program delays and failures. The root cause of delays is in the plan and execution itself, not acquisition, in Kendall’s view. He sees sequestration as still an issue, due to the uncertainty and inefficiency it introduces, but when asked if he thought it would be lifted he gave it no chance because Congress can’t agree on how to move forward. Kendall said that sequestration costs in FY 2013 for DoD were $37 billion and the same was true in FY 2014. In FY 2015 he sees it costing DoD about $10 billion. In FY 2016, however, the sequestration impact is still unclear. 

Throughout the event several themes became clear that highlight some of the challenges, differences and similarities:

  • Lowest Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA) – The increased use of LPTA has challenged both sides of the acquisition table and both sides say that they would like to see it used less than it is, but that pressure still exists to use it. Both sides find fault with LPTA – industry for its one-dimensional focus on price, and government because they are not confident in how to use it and don’t like what they are getting for their money.

  • Communication – Government acquisition personnel continue to struggle with knowing when and in what way they can interact with industry, even years after the launch of OMB’s Myth Busters campaign. This lack of accessibility and awareness of their prerogative frustrates the industry side that is looking for information in order to respond to agency needs. Some in industry tend to lead with capability statements rather than seeking to understand the agency’s perspective.

  • Disconnects – On some issues government and industry seem to have very different perspectives on the same issue. For example, government perceives they communicate effectively on program requirements and effectively leverages draft RFPs. Industry often sees draft RFPs that are incomplete or insufficient to provide guidance in designing solutions.

Whether from within government or industry, presenters suggested that the best approach going forward was to focus on improving acquisitions from within the current system rather than asking and hoping for large scale acquisition reform because the complexity of the issues make it difficult to gain consensus in Congress and reform measures tend to have unintended downstream consequences that further exasperate problems.

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Originally published in the GovWin FIA Analysts Perspectives Blog. Follow me on Twitter @GovWinSlye.

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