Pentagon and Congress begin rewriting DoD acquisition rules

The Pentagon and the U.S. Congress have begun the tedious effort of reviewing decades of antiquated, cumbersome defense acquisition policies to speed up the defense procurement process and get more bang for the buck.

Unlike previous acquisition improvement projects, which in some cases made the process more complicated, those leading this effort are optimistic because lawmakers and Defense Department officials are tackling this review together. These officials also believe that the decline in US defense spending provides incentives to make the project successful.

“The idea is not to really change any of the intent behind the existing laws, but just to simplify that body of law, make it more comprehensible, make it easier to implement and make it something that is much more focused on results and not as confusing and complex for everybody,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during an interview in December.

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Acquisition planning is focus of March 3rd 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 March 3, 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.

A fair and reasonable approach to contract reform

For all its significance, you would expect to hear it mentioned more often. However, the term “fair and reasonable” is sprinkled throughout the Federal Acquisition Regulation and dramatically affects government outcomes. Its interpretation ultimately affect how billions are spent, jobs are created, stock prices are valued, products or services are delivered, disputes are settled, and other laws and regulations work together to meet government mission.

Government contracting can create various forms of dispute, litigation, and protests, but this occurs after the contracting officer makes a determination as to whether, for example, supplies and services are coming from responsible sources at fair and reasonable prices. Source selection officials, attorneys, auditors, program managers, agency senior executives, and others all play important roles, but the beauty of the process is in shielding contract decision-makers from external influence, either irrelevant or political. A “fair and reasonable” determination is not made in a vacuum and involves far more than arriving at the cheapest price. Instead it should be in writing and includes other “factors” that together comprise a proper assessment of the propriety of a contract award. Despite much guidance, nothing obviates the need for an independent, fair and reasonable determination based on the totality of information and expertise available.

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GSA overhaul of delivery system to save $500 million

The General Services Administration is overhauling the way it delivers goods and supplies to agencies, according to a Jan. 30 blog post by Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Tom Sharpe.

The agency will no longer own and operate large warehouses to store goods before they ship and will instead partner with private companies to have the items sent directly to agencies.

Sharpe said the move would simplify the acquisition process and have $500 million over the next five years. The agency operates warehouses across the country and retail operations around the world.

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Three IT procurement problems worth solving

The arduous process that small technology vendors must go through in order to contract with government agencies is preventing government innovation when we need it most. As the CEO of 12-person tech firm that recently went through the process, I have experienced this first hand.  [Note: This article represents the personal views of Kuang Chen is the CEO and founder of Captricty, a government contractor.]

While a partnership with the federal government is unusual for a company of our size, we got lucky. We were introduced early on to an internal advocate who saw the value of our solution to transform paper backlogs into digital data at the Food and Drug Administration — performing weeks of manual entry in hours to update a critical drug safety database. As we learned, even with a strong advocate, the procurement hurdles were significant. After getting proof of concept in two short weeks, it took two more months to prepare the paperwork for a security authorization to operate (ATO) and five months for a stop-gap contract. Even after clearing the original paper jam, we are without a contract to handle the additional demand that is now flooding our way.

So where should government begin when thinking about how to streamline the process?  Here are three observations:

  1. Security review is confusing and cumbersome.
  2. Complex contracting offers no simple path for a relatively small project.
  3. Existing procurement models don’t work for new technologies.

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Pentagon joins with GSA to improve cybersecurity in acquisitions

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel joined General Services Administration chief Dan Tangherlini on Wednesday to unveil six recommendations for better protecting the government acquisition system from cyberattacks.

The joint report to President Obama complies with a February 2013 executive order and a presidential policy directive to boost cybersecurity governmentwide. The Homeland Security Department together with private sector companies is coordinating that effort.

“The ultimate goal of the recommendations is to strengthen the federal government’s cybersecurity by improving management of the people, processes, and technology affected by the Federal Acquisition System,” said Tangherlini in a statement. “GSA and the Department of Defense will continue to engage stakeholders to develop a repeatable process to address cyber risks in the development, acquisition, sustainment, and disposal lifecycles for all federal procurements.”

The report by an interagency working group notes that “purchasing products and services that have appropriate cybersecurity designed and built in may have a higher up-front cost in some cases, but doing so reduces total cost of ownership by providing risk mitigation and reducing the need to fix vulnerabilities in fielded solutions.”

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Interview with Frank Kendall, DoD’s AT&L chief

Frank Kendall, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L), oversees hundreds of billions of dollars in procurement programs. But that has not stopped him from taking on some side projects. He recently rewrote the Pentagon’s acquisition bible, known as Defense Department Instruction 5000.02. The new guidance implements “Better Buying Power” initiatives developed by Kendall and his predecessor, Ashton Carter.

Q. Can you talk about the update to DoD 5000.02?

A. I found a couple of gaps that I thought we needed to close that were fairly significant. Also, there were a number of laws that had been passed that needed to be implemented into the [Department of Defense Instruction] somehow. And we had done some things under Better Buying Power that I thought needed to be reinforced through 5000.02.

The gaps have to do largely with the need for a requirements decision point during what is the risk-reduction phase, the technology demonstration phase. Essentially, what we were doing is writing a draft requirements document when we first came through before Milestone A. That Milestone A kicks off a number of risk-reduction activities with industry, usually competitively. Then we were setting up Milestone B, the entry into full-scale development, after the preliminary design review. But nowhere in between was there a place to finalize the requirements. So we added a new decision point, which I’ll participate in for major programs, but it’s largely a Joint Requirements Oversight Council, Joint Staff, service, requirements community decision.

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NASA doesn’t analyze its strategic sourcing program, IG says

Although NASA developed a strategic sourcing procurement plan, it failed to analyze and track spending through the program, meaning the space agency can’t determine its efficiency, a Jan. 15 NASA inspector general report says.

NASA annually spends about 80 percent of its $17 billion budget on acquiring products and services, the report says.

One of the first steps in NASA’s strategic sourcing program requires a spend analysis to identify potential candidates for strategic sourcing, the IG says.

But NASA only performed targeted spend analyses for a small number of commodities, the report says. It didn’t conduct analyses for the majority of commodities acquired by the agency.

“Without regularly performing a comprehensive spend analysis, NASA is unable to review agency spending patterns for commodities and identify potential candidates for strategic sourcing efforts,” the report says.

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Jordan exits OFPP knowing progress toward buying smarter is real

Joe Jordan, the outgoing administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), said agencies have only scratched the surface of the administration’s campaign to buy smarter.

Jordan, whose last day at OFPP was Friday, January 17, 2014, said savings from strategic sourcing are up, there’s more competition among vendors than in previous years, and he expects overall federal procurement spending to go down once again when the final fiscal 2013 numbers come in next month.

“You’ve seen the largest two-year decrease in contract spending in history. The President has long said we need to reign in contract spending, and I’ve said we have to buy smarter,” Jordan said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “I think you see some clear evidence we’ve been able to do that, and not just because the topline went down. A lot of that is due to smarter buying techniques and some of that is due to budgetary issues.”

He pointed to several areas, including a larger number of agencies buying more strategically, cutting management support service contracts, increasing contracts to small businesses and ensuring there is real competition for procurements.

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GSA’s Networx contracts not as effective as they might have been

Although GSA officials say the agency’s Networx contracting vehicles have put significant dents in the federal government’s telecommunications bills, a GAO study says the road to those savings wasn’t nearly as smooth as it could have been.

The Government Accountability Office said complex acquisition processes and weaknesses in project planning contributed to delays transitioning to Networx from the GSA’s old FTS2001 contracts, resulting in cost increases and missed savings for federal users.

According to the GAO study, under Networx, federal agencies tended to transition easier items first to demonstrate progress, before they turned to work on items such as data networks and international services that needed longer lead times. As a result of the delays, it said, GSA’s estimated cost to complete the transition increased by $66.4 million, 44 percent over the baseline estimate.

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