VA forming cadre of specially-trained acquisition workers

The Veterans Affairs Department is recognizing and rewarding the success of its acquisition workers.

VA is professionalizing the acquisition workforce in a way comparable only to the Defense Department.

“We are establishing a professional acquisition corps in order to provide the benefits to VA by having a very specified cadre of highly-trained contracting officers and program managers who have a demonstrated history of high performance, and are qualified to lead VA’s most critical and high visibility programs and procurements,” said Ford Heard, VA’s associate deputy assistant secretary for Procurement Policy, Systems and Oversight and deputy senior procurement executive, during an interview on Federal News Radio’s In- Depth with Francis Rose.

“From a VA perspective, we are basically a soup to nuts organization as far as what is being procured in VA.  Not only is it IT.  Not only is it high professional quality healthcare services, but all the facility management requirements that anyone of our healthcare facilities would utilize. So, what we are actually doing is building this acquisition corps to really benefit veterans in the service we offer, and the opportunities for our employees to advance and receive training that they would not normally get under past circumstances.”

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Acquisition planning is focus of July 14 course

Want to learn about the Government’s policies and procedures for planning an acquisition?  How does the Government deal with required and preferred sources of supplies and services?  What must be done to ensure competition?

To answer these questions and many, many more, The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech is presenting a one-week course beginning July 14, 2014, entitled CON 090-2: Contract Planning in the FAR.

By attending this course, students will learn all the types of contracts that may be used in acquisitions, special contracting techniques, the impact of socioeconomic programs, the use of special contract terms and conditions, the implications of contractor qualifications, and proper advertisement procedures.

The course provides vital instruction for Government contracting personnel as well as important insights for contractors.

CON 090-2 is the second of four modules from CON 090 – Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Fundamentals.  The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech offers CON 090 in four, one-week classes.  Each module stands on its own, allowing students multiple opportunities throughout the year to complete the entire CON 090 course without the challenge of being away from work or home for an entire month.

The course consists of limited lecture, and is heavily exercise-based.  Students should be prepared to dedicate about an hour each evening for reading.

The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech is an approved equivalency training provider to the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and provides continuing education training to Acquisition and Government Contracting professionals as well as to business professionals working for government contractors or pursuing opportunities in the federal contracting arena.

Procurement troubles still dog Defense Department

Congress has held hearings over the past 30 years seeking ways to fix the Defense Department’s poor procurement system.

A June 24th hearing offered interesting ideas.

No headlines afterward about stopping F-35 costs from skyrocketing, keeping new production of nuclear aircraft carriers on schedule or halting the failure of billion-dollar computer programs — in fact, there was hardly any press coverage at all.

Two worthwhile ideas that came from the four experienced procurement specialists who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee provided no silver bullets, but they made sense.

  1. Give the main contracting officer for major weapons projects absolute cradle-to-grave authority and responsibility and accountability.
  2. Interservice rivalry and even intraservice competition have far from ended, and they harm the procurement system.


Will an obscure Pentagon small business program live on?

Deep in the bowels of the Pentagon is a 25-year-old research project designed to test a new way of encouraging large contractors to pass along some of their work to small businesses.

Known as the Comprehensive Subcontracting Plan Test Program, it was set up in 1990 to “determine if comprehensive subcontracting plans on a corporate, division or plant-wide basis [instead of for individual contracts] would lead to increased opportunities for small businesses,” according to its website.

Participants in this elongated research project include a dozen major contractors, from Lockheed Martin Corp. to Northrop Grumman Corp.

Yet the program — created when George H. W. Bush was president and housed within the Office of Small Business that reports to the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics — has yet to release a single report or data set. And an array of small business groups have long viewed the project as a wasteful distraction that is actually costing them opportunities by allowing the major firms leeway to get around the governmentwide goal of awarding 23 percent of contract dollars to small business.

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Oracle files pre-award protest to DISA cloud storage contract

Oracle Corp. has filed a protest to a $427 million cloud storage contract for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) even before it’s been awarded.

The company has filed a pre-award protest involving the Enterprise Storage Services II contract to provide a state-of-the-art storage capacity to replace the DISA’s existing technology.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Oracle filed the protest on June 25.  The agency will make a decision by October 3.

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4 lessons for government leaders on what motivates contractors

Competition was the main theme of the Defense Department’s second annual report on acquisition performance, released earlier this month. Declining budgets may be pushing defense contractors to look for work outside the government, but the Pentagon’s emphasis remains on promoting competition, according to Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The report analyzed contractors’ cost and schedule performance over more than a decade to see what motivated them to produce better results. Here are some takeaways:

  1. The carrot-and-stick approach works.
  2. Fixed-price isn’t always the best fix.
  3. More competition does mean better performance.
  4. Leadership matters, but it’s not clear how much.

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Capitol Hill roundtables highlight power of Georgia Tech research partnerships

Game changing ideas can result from diversity of perspective, and Georgia Tech is setting the gold standard for public-private partnerships. Last year, Georgia Tech had 930 research contracts with large and small companies spanning the research spectrum. The Institute also is known for its collaborative work with local and state chambers of commerce and groups like Technology Association of Georgia and Georgia Research Alliance, all strengthened further by partnerships with Georgia’s other research universities and the Technical College System of Georgia.

One such partnership, which seeks to improve the tools pediatric health providers use to care for sick children, was recently highlighted for federal policymakers.  Georgia Tech hosted a roundtable discussion on driving innovation in pediatric healthcare in Washington D.C. to inform policymakers of challenges and successes in research partnerships. Co-hosted with IBM and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the cornerstone of the discussion was Georgia Tech’s unique $20 million partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The panel included:

  • Patrick Frias, Chief Physician Officer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
  • Kevin Maher, Co-Director, Center for Pediatric Innovation and Bioengineering, Georgia Tech, Emory University, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
  • Beth Mynatt, Professor and Director, Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology
  • Harry Reynolds, Director, Health Industry Transformation, IBM
  • Leanne West, Chief Engineer of Pediatric Technologies
  • Bill Todd (moderator), Professor of the Practice, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business

Panelists shared their perspectives on what it takes to make partnerships like the Georgia Tech – Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta partnership successful, and urged congressional staffers to refresh their thinking about healthcare delivery.

“The saying goes, ‘It takes a village,’ and the village used to be defined as people,” said Reynolds who oversees the healthcare and life sciences industries for IBM all over the world. “Now the ‘village’ is defined as an ecosystem of information and capabilities that come in the form of technology.”

Reynolds commended the panelists for being equally innovative and practical, pointing to the “Quick Wins” approach to bring innovative technologies to clinicians within 18 months. Read more about Quick Wins and the Children’s and Georgia Tech partnership here.

Panelists Patrick Frias and Leanne West spoke to the importance of federal funding for research. “Extramural funding is so important because we leverage that work for other applications,” said West, who often identifies existing research on campus that can be used to help meet a totally unrelated need in pediatric healthcare.

In the afternoon, Tech held a briefing for staffers from the Georgia Congressional Delegation about the status of health information technology in our state. Mynatt, a leading expert in this area, was joined by Sherry Farruggia, Georgia Tech strategic partners officer, Margarita Gonzales, principal investigator for the Georgia Tech-Georgia Department of Community Health research program, and Kim Isett, associate professor in Tech’s School of Public Policy.

“In Georgia, we are in a good position to do advance health IT innovation and the industry quickly,” said Georgia Tech executive vice president for research Stephen Cross, who facilitated the discussion. “Our state has been called “the nation’s health IT capitol,” with over 200 health IT companies. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce estimates that Georgia’s health IT sector employs nearly 16,000 people, and that the sector’s primary companies are growing rapidly.”

The panel described a successful pilot health information exchange for cancer patients in Rome, Ga., which served as a case in point for the powerful model of partnership between state, federal, and university entities. Read about the project

Panelists underscored the importance of addressing challenges related to interoperability and access to data. Additionally, the panel encouraged staffers to consider Georgia Tech a partner for decision support, and to think about the format and type of data that would be helpful as they develop new policies.

The Washington, D.C. roundtables are part of an ongoing advocacy campaign supporting Georgia Tech’s strategic plan. “Our presence in D.C. has never been greater,” said Georgia Tech director of federal relations Robert Knotts, “It is important to continue to show our leaders in the federal government that when they ask, ‘what does Georgia Tech think,’ they will receive information and testimony exactly appropriate to helping them address major issues facing our state and nation.”

Will FITARA help agencies embrace the cloud?

Even as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act makes its way to the Senate floor, experts are split on whether the bill goes far enough and if legislation is needed at all to fix government’s IT acquisition problems.

Angela Styles, chair of Crowell & Moring’s government contracts group, said a bulky procurement process for industry often drives the private sector away from even giving the government options in what it purchases.

“These companies that come to us and ask ‘What does it mean to be a federal contractor?’ come with the expectation based on FASA (the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act) and FARA (the Federal Acquisition Reform Act) from the ’90s that the government has an idea how to contract in a commercial fashion. Maybe the changes in ’94 and ’95 were more commercial, but they are not now,” Styles said, speaking Tuesday during a panel session at Amazon Web Services’ annual symposium for federal IT reform.

Styles said the provisions set up in part 12 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contribute to an “extraordinary gulf” between how the government and private sector do business.

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DIA opens new gateway to vendors, hoping for disruptive technologies

The Defense Intelligence Agency will formally roll out its new Open Innovation Gateway, a major pillar in the agency’s push to move away from big, monolithic technology acquisitions and bring new innovations on board in small bites and in very short cycles.

Officials have not discussed many of the inner workings of the gateway prior to Wednesday’s official announcement, during which DIA will declare it has reached initial operating capability.

The agency has made clear for the past year that the intent is to give technology developers much more insight into the technical requirements that a new capability must meet before the agency will buy it.

That insight, DIA says, extends beyond publishing black and white technical standards. Via the gateway, the agency will give developers access to the actual computing environment DIA uses today — and eventually, the shared set of systems under the entire intelligence community technology infrastructure — so that they will know from the outset whether their technologies will integrate with DIA’s existing systems, and if not, what changes they will need to make.

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GAO: DoD didn’t take steps to ensure contactor pay was correct

The Defense Department didn’t fully implement the steps required to make sure contractor pay was correct, a June 23 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service is responsible for processing and disbursing nearly $200 billion annually in contract payments for the DoD, the report says.

“Although DFAS has asserted audit readiness, until it corrects the deficiencies and fully implements its Financial Improvement Plan, its ability to process, record, and maintain accurate and reliable contract pay transaction data is questionable,” GAO says.

In one instance, DFAS didn’t assess the dollar activity and risk factors of its processes. Because of that DFAS couldn’t reconcile its contractor pay data with the ledgers of its DoD components, the report says.

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