FAR Part 1: ‘If it’s not prohibited, it’s allowed’

The May issue of Contract Management magazine, the publication of the National Contract Management Association, featured an article called “Secrets of Superstar Contracting Professionals.” The article (which unfortunately is not available online to non-NCMA members) is by Christoph Minarchik, a lawyer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and offers a quick guide to overall skills and competencies that freshly minted contracting professionals need to become outstanding in their profession.

I was happy (and, I will confess, flattered) to see, in a section of the article called “Innovation and Risk-Taking,” a short quote from Part 1.102(d) of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, reading in its entirety as follows:

“In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.”

The author went on to state that these words have “reached a near-legendary status in the contracting community,” and that “hushed whispers of it echo through acquisition program offices, [where] grizzled contracting officers vigorously defend it as they pound the table to bolster their case.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/blogs/lectern/2014/05/far-part-1.aspx?admgarea=TC_Management

Federal contracting’s bright side

Reviewing government contracting trends over time often yields some surprising results. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t.

One result is while the acquisition environment may appear dire in the short run, the overall picture is quite optimistic. For example, while spending increased dramatically during the early 2000s, owing to two of the longest wars in American history, the “severe” drop off in government contracting that started in 2010 leaves spending still almost 40 percent higher than in 2002, adjusted for inflation. Not so bad for the government contractor community!

Of course, contract spending by the Department of Defense dwarfs that of all other agencies combined. Yet, while some agencies have seen significant drops, the overall reduction is mitigated by the huge amount of spending that continues.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140508/BLG06/305080010/Federal-contracting-s-bright-side

Acquisition reform: Where do you start?

There are today no fewer than six significant acquisition review/reform efforts underway.

They include:

  • A major effort being jointly undertaken by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
  • The Defense Department’s  reviews of high-cost/low-value compliance and reporting requirements and soon to be released Better Buying Power 3.0.
  • A “bottom-up” acquisition review directed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
  • A continuing effort to develop IT acquisition reform legislation in the Senate
  • The recently launched OMB crowdsourcing effort focused on improving acquisition.

Obviously, there will be a lot of overlap even as each (hopefully) seeks to break some new ground. After all, there shouldn’t be much debate about the need to substantially transform the acquisition landscape.

Keep reading this article at: http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2014/04/29/insights-soloway-reform.aspx

Improved Pentagon acquisition requires tolerance of risk

The federal government must get more comfortable with risk if it is to deliver the nimbler and more performance-based acquisition regulations that defense contractors pine for, a panel of industry executives said this week.

Federal contracting officials should move from the “adversarial, risk-intolerant oversight culture we have with procurement to one that incentivizes and encourages innovation and appropriate, smart risk-taking,” said Joe Jordan, FedBid’s president of public sector, during an April 23 panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg Government.

There is a widespread perception among federal contractors that the government punishes rather than rewards innovation, he added. “If you step out [on] the ledge half an inch, you’re worried about the IG report, the GAO report, your boss getting called to the Hill and then you bearing the brunt of the repercussions.”

Abandoning that risk-averse approach requires a cultural shift, he added — something bigger and less tangible than amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/04/25/dod-acquisition.aspx

GSA announces plan to simplify federal contracting

The General Services Administration’s contracting division is developing a new Web platform and business structure to bring more expertise to complicated acquisitions, the agency said April 9, 2014.

The new initiative, called Category Management, will involve assigning a Federal Acquisition Service manager in charge of each of several acquisition categories, such as information technology, professional services and travel.

Those managers will help develop a Common Acquisition Platform with information about contract vehicles, historical prices and other data related to specific procurements, FAS Commissioner Thomas Sharpe said in a 1,000-word blog post.

The acquisition platform will eventually include several tools related to specific categories of government purchases, according to the blog post.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2014/04/gsa-announces-plan-simplify-federal-contracting/82306/?oref=nextgov_cio_briefing 

The poster child for doing procurement the wrong way

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter isn’t going anywhere. But members of the House Armed Forces Committee don’t have to be happy about it.

That was the message from ranking member U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Bloomberg Government’s Defense Transformation conference.

“I hate to say this without laughing, but it’s better than it was,” said Smith. “The F-35 is the poster child for doing procurement the wrong way, but to the extent possible, they’ve cleaned up. It will replace 90 percent of fighter aircraft. It’s going forward. There’s no scenario where we’d scrap it at this point.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/fedbiz_daily/2014/02/lockheeds-f-35-the-poster-child-for.html?page=all 

DOD enacts faster, more agile technology acquisitions process

Information technology programs represent a considerable portion of all acquisition programs within the Defense Department, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition said Tuesday (Feb. 25, 2014).

In fiscal year 2010, the National Defense Authorization Act directed that DOD develop and implement new acquisitions processes for IT systems, Katrina G. McFarland said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness and management support subcommittee.

So, based on recommendations contained in the 2009 Defense Science Board Report, the department is working to speed up the route to acquiring new systems by increasing collaboration and improving processes, McFarland said.

“To do this, one must start with the defined requirement or capability,” she added.

In the past, once an IT requirement or capability was defined, organizations were able to acquire only that technology which precisely met the predefined parameters.

The introduction of the “IT box” concept is a significant change to the IT acquisition process, McFarland said. The IT box gives organizations the ability to acquire technology that improves on already-approved technology, as long as the changes don’t exceed certain parameters.

In addition to the IT box, the department has introduced interim guidance to adopt “modular, open system methodology, with heavy emphasis on design for change,” which will help DOD adapt to the changing IT environment, the assistant secretary said.

“The policy addresses the realization that IT capabilities may evolve, so desired capabilities can be traded off against cost and initial operational capability to deliver the best product to the field in a timely manner,” she said.

In accordance with the fiscal year 2011 NDAA, the department chartered the Cyber Investment Management Board, which unites IT policy and operational requirements by identifying gaps in resources and in capabilities, McFarland said. But, she said, finding personnel with the required expertise work in IT acquisitions and development is “challenging.”

“The talent pool is small,” she noted.

One way the department is working to address these challenges is through the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, McFarland said, which is supporting training of IT acquisitions personnel through the Defense Acquisition University.

In addition, DOD is developing a cybersecurity guidebook for program managers to assist them in understanding what cybersecurity activities are necessary at each point of the acquisition life cycle, she said.

“The department will continue its efforts to operate as affordably, efficiently, and as effectively as possible,” McFarland said. “We are evolving our approach to acquisition for IT and recognize the distinct challenges that come with it.”

NASA’s Johnson Space Center takes customer-first approach to IT

NASA’s Johnson Space Center is taking a different approach to working with vendors and one that the Obama administration has been promoting over the last few years.

Annette Moore, the acting chief information officer, said vendors approach her organization through a vendor management office.

Annette Moore, acting chief information officer, Johnson Space Center

Annette Moore, acting chief information officer, Johnson Space Center

“When Larry Sweet was the CIO at NASA Johnson Space Center, Larry made an intentional decision to get us more in the direction of a business technology office,” she said. “We actually created a position for vendor management support and IT procurement support. So we actually have a staff dedicated here on our directorate level that works that vendor management piece to ensure that the vendor gets connected to the right office in our directorate, gets connected with the right individual in our directorate and gets the right level of attention to get them connected into what we are doing with our initiatives and our priorities. We also have a chief technology officer on the directorate staff. That CTO does the same thing and those two positions work hand-in-hand to ensure that the vendor gets the appropriate level of contact at the right level within our directorate.”

Sweet moved on to become NASA CIO in June.

Moore said the goal is to simplify the path for vendors to find the most appropriate person and to help her office ensure they are using their time most wisely.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=494&sid=3565374&pid=0&page=1 

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140216/DEFREG02/302160012/Pentagon-Congress-Begin-Rewriting-DoD-Acquisition-Laws 

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140210/BLG06/302100006/A-fair-reasonable-approach-contract-reform