Trust is the focus of ELC brainstorming

Government and industry say they want to improve contract communications

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Industry and government officials have no shortage of ideas for improving their relationships. At a conference sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council, industry and government leaders voted last week on their favorite suggestions.

By an overwhelming majority, the leaders agreed that government and industry need to improve communications when they work as contract partners.

“It’s all about the dialogue,” said Jim Williams, commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, who offered suggestions.

Some leaders said the government should build performance measures into contracts to hold companies accountable. Others said industry needs to do more to help agencies when contract problems arise. For example, if an industry partner knows of a solution that would benefit the government, it should inform the government, even if that might reduce the company’s profit margin.

Williams offered other ideas about improving federal procurement. Officials need a strategic vision to guide them, he said, adding that forming those guidelines would be a task for Paul Denett, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s administrator, who was in the front row during the discussion.

Denett said he agreed that a new strategic vision document was overdue. A procurement council published the last such document in 2001. Denett said he signed the document when he was vice chairman of the Governmentwide Procurement Executive Council and a senior procurement executive in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Department.

Denett said he will develop a new strategic vision that will guide federal procurement officials into the next presidential administration.

In addition to offering his thoughts on a governmentwide strategy, Denett said he supports the efforts of Lurita Doan, GSA’s administrator, to revitalize the agency. He added that a recently cooled business relationship between GSA and the Defense Department is warming up again.

Doan has been outspoken about her intention to halt the widespread proliferation of governmentwide acquisition contracts. She has campaigned publicly and privately to have OFPP stop NASA’s successful Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement GWAC. Doan has said that SEWP and many other GWACs duplicate what GSA is chartered to do.

“We have got to use GSA to the max, and I believe they are going to step up to the plate and do a good job for all of us,” Denett said in a keynote address at the leadership conference.

Denett added that acquisition workforce numbers are dwindling and agencies have limited procurement resources, two trends that will help re-establish GSA’s role in the federal procurement process.

In recent years, GSA’s business has decreased, Denett said. The agency has been at the center of a controversy about the proper management of procurement funds, including DOD’s. But Denett reported that GSA and DOD have resolved the differences that, until recently, had cooled their business relationship.

For many years, GSA had been able to hold money for agencies when they had funds earmarked for projects but could not spend them by the end of the fiscal year. But concerns about abuse of this system led to a crackdown by government auditors at the end of fiscal 2005. Millions of agencies’ parked dollars were returned to the Treasury Department.

Because DOD is the customer, Denett said, GSA should take DOD’s side in the dispute over multiyear funds. Doan, on the other hand, has said she believes GSA has the right to hold funds beyond the fiscal year in which lawmakers appropriated them.

3 ways to improve government/industry relationshipsGovernment and industry information technology leaders gathered ideas at the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council’s Executive Leadership Conference for fostering better relationships between government and industry as contract partners. Here are three ideas that emerged from that discussion.

  • Good communications between companies and agencies will create trust.

  • Performance measures built into contracts will improve contractors’ accountability.

  • Contractors have an obligation to help their government partners when contract problems arise, even if helping means the company would earn a smaller profit.

— Florence Olsen

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