FCW Forum — Acquisition
Inventing Acquisition 2.0
The government's acquisition process has reached a crisis
- By Mary Davie
- Jun 18, 2009
In government, we often seem to be challenged to convey our needs clearly. This affects appropriate contractual relationships and our ability to control costs, eliminate scope creep, change orders, and — ultimately — get the desired outcome and results.
I recently posed several questions related to improving the requirements definition process in federal acquisition at the Acquisition 2.0 discussion group on GovLoop.com, a privately run social-networking site for government. (Note: You must register on GovLoop.com to view and comment.)
My questions are these: What makes defining requirements such a challenge for us? Do we have the skills to write good requirements documents for complex acquisitions that enable adaptability for change during development life cycle? Are we working too hard to get requirements 100 percent right before we move forward? Are we focused on defining the “how” instead of working to define success? Are resource shortages forcing shortcuts that eventually only prolong the timeline and costs and increase the risk of failure?
And the final question: Would making the requirements development process more open, collaborative and transparent help?
Imagine if we opened up the requirements process to anyone who wanted to participate and did so in a transparent and collaborative forum through structured processes and Web 2.0 tools. Using the wisdom of the crowd to define requirements and the best development process, participants could propose ideas based on experience, good practices and standards; question and weed out bad ideas; build on one another’s ideas; and float the best to the top.
Put aside for now questions about the manageability of the process, operating within the Federal Acquisition Regulation, when to apply this crowd-sourcing, open strategy, etc. Although business certainly has a financial motivation, individuals participate in peer production communities because of personal passion, a desire for recognition of their expertise or just a desire to be part of the community.
If managed effectively, there is enormous value in co-creation and applying resources outside your borders. And imagine what this might do to attract and retain the Net Generation workforce we are always seeking out. They live and thrive in the online, collaborative, open environment.
The discussion in the GovLoop group on this topic is dynamic. Some believe that we spend too much time on requirements rather than instituting an agile, iterative systems development process. Many agree that the current federal acquisition process isn’t conducive to keeping up with changes in technology. Others feel an open collaborative forum might help level the playing field for small and emerging businesses allowing them "to compete on the basis of their ideas,” while others think it might put them at a further disadvantage because large businesses could apply more resources, potentially biasing and unfairly steering a requirement. Others suggest there is value in including people from academia and private citizens in the process.
I think what we all are saying is that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way we acquire goods and services in government. We have somewhat of a crisis in federal acquisition today and need to address this crisis through multiple channels.
Could this be one of those channels?
Mary Davie is the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS).
The Federal Acquisition Service provides buying platforms and acquisition services to Federal, State and Local governments for everything from office supplies to motor vehicles to information technology and telecommunications products and services.
As the ITS Assistant Commissioner, Mary is responsible for the largest fee-for-service information technology (IT) procurement and services operation in the U.S. government. Mary leads a highly-skilled and diverse workforce that manages more than 7,000 contracts, providing access to relevant and timely IT and telecommunications products, services, and solutions to defense and civilian agencies, as well as to state, local, and tribal governments.
Before her current position, Mary served as Assistant Commissioner for Assisted Acquisition Services, responsible for managing the acquisition of $3.5B in information technology and professional services products, services and solutions to federal agencies worldwide.
Mary has also served as the Acting Assistant Commissioner for marketing and business development in FAS. Mary led business development and marketing efforts intended to increase agency awareness and satisfaction with GSA products, services and solutions. She was responsible for developing strategy, planning for new business, and leading teams to develop customer-focused, integrated solutions.
Mary is an active advocate of the use of Web 2.0 and social media tools to improve government acquisition. She was a founding member of the Better Buy Project and has contributed to the Better Buy Blog.
Mary began her career with GSA in 1989. She has two Bachelor of Science degrees in business finance and business management from Virginia Tech, and a Master's of business administration with a focus in technology management from the University of Phoenix.