New survey identifies procurement challenges, solutions from both industry and government perspectives

There are as many ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal acquisition process as there are procurement challenges, and rapid improvements to the procurement process are possible.

These are the overarching conclusions reached by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) in conjunction with their recent government and industry procurement survey.

APMP’s survey highlights the fundamental differences between industry and government viewpoints.  The survey focuses on the difference between official policy, as represented by the Federal Acquisition Regulation and “myth-busting” memos issued by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and what actually happens in day-to-day practice.  The significant difference between policy and execution provides the foundation for the title of the survey report: “Closing the Procurement Gap.”

In all, nine specific actions are recommended to industry, and eight recommendations are made to government acquisition professionals.  Highlighted among them are:

Recommendations to Industry

  • Focus on providing solutions to government.
  • Respond seriously to RFIs and market surveys.
  • Stop filing so many protests, and consider their validity and business impact.
  • Help the government evaluate risk, cost, probability of success, and paths to success.
  • Communicate with government acquisition personnel and don’t waste their time.
  • Make white papers focus on a successful procurement, not skewing the procurement to your favor.

Recommendations to Government

  • Mandate that communication with industry remain open until final RFP release, and make sure contracting and program officials know the communication rules.
  • Eliminate the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) procurement strategy for services and allow its use only for commodities.
  • Include sections L and M in draft RFPs (section L addresses proposal preparation requirements, and section M discloses the government’s proposal evaluation factors).
  • Regularly publish and update projected release dates for RFPs.
  • Consider eliminating “alternate proposal” options.
  • Carefully review RFPs to ensure they are complete.
  • Quit being so risk adverse of debriefings, and provide more meaningful information to offerors in debriefs.

The APMP’s survey report is based on more than 500 responses — 350 from industry and 157 from government.  The full survey, including detailed findings and all recommendations, can be downloaded by clicking here.

 

 

Senate report contributes to discussion about acquisition reform and support for training

Last week, the U.S. Senate published a compendium of expert views on acquisition reform within the Department of Defense (DoD).  While the report contains no recommendations from the Senate itself, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations points out that the report documents shortcomings in the acquisition process that may serve to guide Congressional deliberations in the future.

The Oct. 2, 2014 report, entitled “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?”, contains the views of 31 government Defense policy and procurement experts.  Significantly,

  • Nearly half of the experts feel that cultural change is required while over two-thirds believe improving incentives for the acquisition workforce is necessary for reform.
  • Two-thirds of the contributors feel that training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved.
  • Nearly half believe that DOD needs to attain realistic requirements at the start of a major acquisition program that includes budget-informed decisions.
  • More than half of the submissions noted the need for strong accountability and leadership throughout the life-cycle of a weapon system – with several experts stating the need to further integrate the Service Chiefs into the acquisition process.

Seal_of_the_United_States_SenateAbout 70 percent of the report’s contributors express the view that although Congress has taken steps to address deficiencies in DoD’s acquisition workforce, more should be taken. Several contributors state that the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF), which Congress established in 2008 to ensure that the acquisition workforce has the skills to ensure the DoD receives the best value for taxpayer dollars, should be continued and strengthened.

Former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Dan Gordon, now Associate Dean at George Washington University Law School, states in the report that improvements in training through Defense Acquisition University (DAU) coursework will help the acquisition workforce “buy smarter” in the current budget environment.  Gordon notes that of the three phases of the contracting process — planning, award, and administration — the “weak links in our procurement system [are] poor acquisition planning, especially poor definitions of what the government is trying to buy, and lax contract management.”  These two problematic areas, notes Gordon, “are those least amenable to legislation” and instead tend to rely on the experience, judgment, and training of acquisition professionals.

Gordon calls for “better training for purchasing services, and creation of specialized acquisition cadres, at least in large entities such as the military services, to help run procurements in areas that demand education and experience in the field, such as the acquisition of IT and professional services.”

Many of the report’s contributors believe that DoD should create a clear career path for acquisition professionals similar to the military promotion system and designate acquisition billets to be on the same level as operational billets.  According to those contributors, that may grant more opportunity for promotion, thereby attracting a higher quality workforce.

The report includes input from many current and former officials, including the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics chief Frank Kendall; former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman retired Gen. James Cartwright; former acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox; former Chief of Naval Operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead; former Air Force Chief of Staff retired Gen. Norton Schwartz; former F-35 program manager retired Vice Adm. David Venlet; and former President of the Defense Acquisition University Frank Anderson.

The full report is available here: Defense Acquisition Reform – A Compendium of Views – 10.02.2014

Georgia Tech’s Academy supports Federal Acquisition Institute’s new standards for FAC-C program

The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has granted approval for Georgia Tech to teach FAI’s newest course offering, FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals.  The course is two weeks in length and provides students with a comprehensive review of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

The FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course came about as a result of recent changes to the government’s professional development standards for federal contracting officials.

The May 7, 2014 OMB Memo on the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting Program established what’s known as the FAC-C (Refresh) program. The effective date of the FAC-C (Refresh) is October 1, 2014.  Per the May 7, 2014 memo, all civilian agencies must fully implement the FAC-C (Refresh) by October 1, 2015.

Details of the training standards established under the FAC-C (Refresh) program can be seen by clicking here

FAI logoFAI has verified that the FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course offered by the Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech meets the requirements for delivery of the new FAC-C (Refresh) Level I certification requirements.

By attending the FAR Fundamentals course, students learn the basic policies and procedures for acquisition planning, source selection, and contract administration. Students work through realistic, scenario-based problems by identifying the relevant regulations, guidance, provisions and clauses that govern the federal contracting process.

Georgia Tech’s Contracting Academy received FAI’s permission to teach the FAR Fundamentals course on September 23, 2014.  The Academy is planning to offer the course through on-campus open enrollment in the coming weeks.  The course is also available, on a contract basis, for presentation both on-campus at Georgia Tech and on-site at government facilities.

Anne Rung confirmed as OFPP administrator

The Senate confirmed Anne Rung to be the next administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014.

Rung, who was nominated in July and has been working as a senior advisor in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since late May, received approval by voice vote in the Senate.

“Please join me in congratulating Anne Rung who was just confirmed by the Senate to be the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Thanks to the Legislative Affairs team and OFPP for all of their work on her confirmation!,” wrote Shaun Donovan, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in an email to staff, which was obtained by Federal News Radio. “And thanks especially to Lesley Field who has done a wonderful job leading the team over the past several months. Anne has already been a great addition to OMB — and we look forward to working with her in this new role.”
Rung replaces Joe Jordan as the top federal procurement official. Jordan left to be president of FedBid public sector group in January. Lesley Field has been acting OFPP administrator since January.

Buying what works: Case studies in innovative contracting

Last week, the White House announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a new team of America’s best digital experts dedicated to improving and simplifying the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.  The USDS team has already begun to make progress by releasing the TechFAR Handbook, a guide that helps explain how Federal agencies can take advantage of existing procurement authorities to execute key plays in the Digital Services Playbook.

The Federal Government has long used its buying power as one of the world’s largest customers to accelerate well-known innovations, from the first microchips to the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Today, Federal agencies continue to leverage innovative procurement practices that spur the private sector to develop advanced technologies to better serve the American people – and to pay only for successful results, not just best efforts.

Today, the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget are pleased to release the first version of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, an iterative, evolving document that describes a number of ways Federal agencies are getting more innovation per taxpayer dollar – all under existing laws and regulations. For example, NASA has used milestone-based payments to promote private sector competition for the next generation of astronaut transportation services and moon exploration robots.  The Department of Veterans Affairs issued an invitation for short concept papers that lowered barriers for non-traditional government contractors, which led to the discovery of powerful new technologies in mobile health and trauma care.  The Department of Defense has used head-to-head competitions in realistic environments to identify new robot and vehicle designs that will protect soldiers on the battlefield.

We encourage both private sector stakeholders and public servants to engage in a sustained public discussion, identifying new case studies and improving this document’s usefulness in future iterations.  At the same time, Federal government employees can join a community of practice around innovative contracting by signing up for the new “Buyers Club” email group (open to all .gov and .mil email addresses).  This “Buyers Club” group should provide a useful forum for troubleshooting and sharing best practices across the Federal government, serving everyone from contracting officers with deep expertise in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to program managers looking for new ways to achieve their agencies’ missions.

All of these innovative contracting efforts are aligned with President Obama’s management agenda to deliver a 21st century government that is more effective, efficient, and supportive of economic growth, including specific cross-agency initiatives on Smarter IT deliverystrategic sourcing, and shared services.  We encourage readers to join the public discussion of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, or sign up for the Feds-only “Buyers Club” email group.  We look forward to raising awareness about the many ways that the Federal Government can use the power of the purse to deliver powerful and cost-effective technology solutions for the American people.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Lesley Field is the Deputy Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

GAO: Most agencies still not providing complete data on contractors’ past performance

Although their level of compliance has improved over the last year, most federal agencies still haven’t met established governmentwide targets for providing complete, timely and accurate information on contractors’ past performance, congressional investigators found.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said compliance among the top 10 agencies – based on the number of contracts that each agency needed to evaluate – varied greatly, ranging from 13 percent to 83 percent, as of April.

Only two departments – Defense and Treasury – had compliance rates above 65 percent, said the GAO report released Aug. 7.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy, or OFPP, which has been trying to improve agency compliance on this issue, had wanted all such departments to reach or exceed that 65-percent threshold by the end of fiscal 2013, GAO said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gao-most-agencies-still-not-providing-complete-data-contractors-past-perfor/2014-08-12

‘We’ve got to stop throwing Hail Marys’

The future of federal IT contracting could look a lot like the environment at Google and other high-tech companies, where cutting costs and boosting efficiencies are as routine as breathing. But, say former and current procurement officials, winning the future will still involve knowing the nitty-gritty of what an agency is trying to accomplish with its IT contracts.

Being able to act quickly and effectively in the face of technology that has outpaced government’s ability to buy it effectively is a constant challenge, according to panel discussions at the National Contract Managers Association’s 2014 conference in Washington on July 28. In the face of similar challenges, private industry has adopted shorter development cycles coupled with more agile techniques.

If we want real innovation, we need to stop looking for ways to circumvent the federal acquisition system and work together to improve it, writes Stan Soloway.

Federal agencies are just beginning to do the same.

“We’ve got to stop throwing ‘Hail Marys” at large federal IT projects, Joe Jordan, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now president of public sector at FedBid, said during a panel on technology’s impact on acquisition. “It’s got to be broken up into five- to 10-yard passes.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/Articles/2014/07/28/No-more-Hail-Marys.aspx?Page=1&p=1

Contractors group would restructure White House procurement shop

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/contractors-group-would-restructure-white-house-procurement-shop/89870/

Read the full report by and recommendations of the Professional Services Council at: The PSC Acquisition and Technology Policy Agenda – 07.28.2014

OFPP nominee lays out agenda

Anne Rung, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), told lawmakers that she wants to “break down the barriers” that stall innovation in federal acquisition.

At a brisk, sparsely attended confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 24, the former chief acquisition officer at the General Services Administration also cited as priorities better category management and giving the acquisition workforce the tools it needs to succeed.

Rung said she is particularly interested in creating topic specialization for acquisition officials. Often people who are buying pens and pencils for their agency are also tasked with major IT purchases.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/07/24/ofpp-nominee-agenda.aspx

Senate testimony: Intelligence community needs to keep better tabs on its contractors

The 17 agencies in the intelligence community must get a better handle on the extent of their reliance on contractors, witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday. Overuse of outsourcing presents risks to both national security and managerial efficiency, senators and an auditor warned.

“Contractors can provide flexibility and unique expertise, but there are risks” if internal controls, formal planning and documentation are inadequate, Timothy DiNapoli, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Changes to the definition of core contract personnel limit the comparability of the information over time,” he said, noting that the civilian intelligence community agencies used various methods to calculate the number of contract personnel and did not maintain documentation to validate the number of personnel reported for 37 percent of records reviewed. GAO also found that the civilian intelligence community agencies either under- or over-reported contract obligations by more than 10 percent for one-fifth of the records.

Panel Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “The people we entrust with leadership roles at these agencies need to be able to show the American people, and Congress, that they know who is working for them and why.” Overreliance on contractors behind the intelligence agencies’ secrecy walls presents three hazards, Carper said: hollowing out the in-house workforce and making it weaker, requiring extra layers of management and paying more for work that could have been performed by federal employees.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/06/intelligence-community-needs-keep-better-tabs-its-contractors/86758/