With the imminent departure of Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Dan Gordon, rightful praise has been given to his legacy of collaboration and needed improvements in how government and industry interact. However, the “MythBusters” campaign is an ongoing activity that needs continued focus in this environment of budgetary uncertainty.
The Government Accountability office recently reported on the critical success factors on programs that met cost, schedule, and performance goals, and it was no surprise that active engagement by the program with its contractor base was listed. Only through this active engagement can programs properly define requirements, properly define metrics, and execute on them.
However, many programs see this critical success factor as just a time-consuming, and low-value added effort. The reality is that the current environment of low-cost contract selection, combined with a budgetary environment that may turn into a nuclear meltdown of sorts beginning on 2013, is a vital step to ensure any form of program success.
One clear example of this fact is the Navy’s Next-Generation Network or NGEN, a program that will replace the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet or NMCI, with an estimated cost of around $10 billion. The program office recently announced the importance of cost on this program, effectively warning the handful of competitors that price is the factor for contract award selection. It is an example of things to come, with prices being cut, margins being squeezed, and badly needed innovation and performance as possibly the latest casualties resulting from the current madness that seemingly has taken hold of Congress.
In this environment, doors need to be swung wide open in the area of industry and government collaboration and communications. Government needs to be realistic about what it can afford, and industry needs to be given the chance to work with government buyers on realistic solutions that do not sacrifice performance for price. Regretfully, the dominant communications are “no calls or emails” in conducting market research, especially with Requests for Information or Industry Days, if even conducted at all.
Further exacerbating the issue is the desire to cut training and support contracts, which will only fuel the desire to close even more doors through a poorly trained and overtaxed acquisition workforce, pressed for time and overly pressured to do more with less. This is the wrong strategy, yet budgetary pressures are such that laying the foundation for program success early in the acquisition process is a nice-to-have, a luxury that is just not affordable.
Effective collaboration is a necessary strategy to prevent the future wave of waste, fraud, and abuse that is currently running rampant throughout the federal government. By properly developing requirements and program goals, combined with a focus on realism and reasonableness when it come to program affordability, programs have a much higher chance of being successful and surviving the “more with less” pressures.
Contractors can still provide the needed innovations in technology, but it requires the government to understand that only through a strategic partnership and open and honest communications can this be possible. It is just a business reality in industry that margins will be squeezed, and fewer opportunities will exist. However, it is growing decidedly more difficult for industry to succeed when they do not have the opportunity to work together with procurement officials in the constraints of this fiscal reality of the government market.
Dan Gordon will no doubt be missed, but it his leadership in helping shape the future best practices in federal buying that will be a significant gap to fill. We need to be talking more, not less, and ensure the “MythBusters” campaign is not another passing fad in the continued need on acquisition reform.