Congress pushes DoD to buy commercial items and services

There is still a significant schizophrenia within the government generally, and particularly in the Defense Department, over the use of commercial items and services. 

Commercial itemAs arcane as this issue might sound, it is actually one of the core lynchpins to the government’s ability to drive innovation and gain access the best solutions from the broadest possible array of providers. In other words, arcane or not, it really matters.

For two years in a row, DoD asked Congress for legislation to dramatically change the statutory definition of a commercial item or service. Both times Congress summarily, and wisely, rejected these proposals. Then in early August, DoD issued a proposed procurement rule that would achieve much the same result as the legislative proposal, albeit in a more nuanced way. And Congress noticed.

In early November, more than 50 members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, signed an unusually sharp letter to the department calling for the proposed rule to be rescinded.

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Army, Air Force acquisition chiefs to step down

The departures of William LaPlante and Heidi Shyu will likely leave the Air Force and Army without permanent procurement leaders until 2017.
Dr. William A. LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition
Dr. William A. LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition
Heidi Shyu, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology
Heidi Shyu, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology

The top acquisition officials from the Air Force and Army announced they will step down in coming weeks, becoming the latest top Pentagon leaders to depart as President Obama begins his final year in the White House.

William LaPlante, the Air Force acquisition head, announced his departure in an email to staff last week. He will leave at the end of November, defense officials said. Heidi Shyu, the Army acquisition head, will retire at the end of January, according to an email she also sent to her staff last week.

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FAI releases flow charts and decision trees for contract formation and administration

The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) released a “Smart Guide” for government contracting officials on November 9, 2015.

FAI Smart GuideThe Guide features 51 flow charts and decision trees associated with the federal acquisition process, grouped into two primary content areas: Contract Formation and Contract Administration.

In each of the sections, there are:

  • Tasks, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) references, and additional helpful information,
  • Flow charts and decision trees for each activity to visually demonstrate the tasks, and
  • Links to relevant FAI and Defense Acquisition University (DAU) training courses.

The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech is an equivalency training provider for both DAU and FAI course work.

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Relationship building at core of acquisition success

A Mission and Installation Contracting Command (MICC) contracting officer took advantage of a recent temporary duty visit to conduct a source selection evaluation board at the Presidio of Monterey, California, to foster new customer relationships benefitting the command’s MICC 2025 transformation efforts.

Amber VanHoozer said that in addition to completing a successful evaluation board for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center’s curriculum development, she wanted to seize the opportunity to meet customers she is supporting from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as part of the realignment of workload.

ArmyA source selection evaluation board is an element of a contract’s pre-award peer review. The review includes an assessment of the pre-solicitation, solicitation and contract award documents to validate sound business practices. VanHoozer and representatives from MICC-supported activities on POM discussed various contract actions in detail including which acquisition documents required updates, outstanding documents needed by MICC-Fort Sill to process requirements, and revision of milestone dates associated with various requirements.

“The visit was very productive. Not only did I have an opportunity to meet and work with my contracting counterparts at the POM, but also I met many of the customers I will be working with in the future,” VanHoozer said. “We conducted an effective source selection evaluation board and worked through many issues on upcoming procurements. I do not believe the value of such a visit can be overstated.”

While at POM, she also met with the director of the logistics readiness center as well as the food service team to discuss upcoming procurements, establish milestones and review performance work statements. The visit with the food service team included a tour of the new dining facility under construction that is projected to open in mid-2016.

“Personally touring the facilities gives me a better understanding of the magnitude of work that will be included in this procurement,” she said.

Additional stops included visits with the installation’s resource management staff and staff judge advocate office to review upcoming solicitations. Self-described as a “hands-on” contracting officer, VanHoozer said she enjoys getting to know and helping to educate customers on contract requirements.

“I feel it is extremely important to get out from behind the desk and visit the areas where contract work is being performed,” she said. “This gives contracting a new meaning, it actually brings a contract to life for the contracting officer and contract specialist working the requirements.”

She said the response from customers has been equally constructive and allows for the reciprocal benefit of better understanding the mission of supported activities.

“This trip provided a valuable opportunity to meet our customers face to face and foster the important working relationships that support future success. Although the contracting process follows a number of standardized steps, understanding the functions and missions supported by each contract adds to the complexity of the task,” the Lawton, Oklahoma, native said.

Kay McKinzie, director of MICC-Fort Sill, agrees that face-to-face interaction enhances those working relationships, adding that virtual communications tools can still create a physical distance that separates people and impacts the relationships.

“Whether the customer is asking for help from us or we are asking for support from the customer, familiarity with one another enhances the exchange,” the director said.

Following her TDY, VanHoozer accepted a position as division chief at MICC-Fort Sill that will encompass support of a variety of contracts for customers she just previously met at the Presidio of Monterey.

McKinzie said the MICC 2025 plan has already been implemented in terms of the contracting office’s support of POM contracting actions greater than $150,000. She added that to ensure the success of MICC 2025, VanHoozer and the rest of the contracting team at Fort Sill are focusing on establishing working relationships that are benefitting both MICC-Fort Sill and the customer.

“Developing working relationships with the customers we support is critical to the success of our mission. Most customers really look for support locally and are not happy when an off-site office assumes that support,” McKinzie said. “That unhappiness is the direct result of the lack of relationships they typically experience when the support is off-site. Whether it be in your hometown or office, the more personal relationships result in quicker support and a willingness to ‘help a friend.'”

VanHoozer, a 2001 graduation from Cameron University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, began her civil service career in 1998. She has served as a contracting officer for more than six years and is Level III certified in contracting, which is compliant with the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act to execute contracts on behalf of the government. Prior to joining the MICC, she served in a variety of positions with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in which she developed an understanding of the payment process as it relates to acquisitions.


GSA platform will ‘cut through the noise,’ empower contracting officers

The General Services Administration’s recently launched governmentwide acquisition hub not only better organizes goods and services around categories, it is leading to a better organized government acquisition workforce, said GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth.
Acquisition Gateway GSA
Click on the icon above to connect to GSA’s Acquisition Gateway.

GSA’s Acquisition Gateway provides a central location for the government’s 61,000 procurement professionals to learn, connect and act upon acquisition information, said Roth during a discussion at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference Oct. 27.

The platform and use of category management has elicited “an immediate response” from the contracting community and encouraged GSA to reorganize its workforce in a way that takes advantage of strong expertise in specific categories, said Roth.

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