COMMENTARY

Why procurement reform hinges on industry help

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm. He is also the industry chairman of the Better Government IT initiative, a joint effort by the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and the General Services Administration to improve government/industry communication and collaboration in the IT acquisition process and implement items 24 and 25 of OMB’s IT management reform plan.

The Office of Management Budget recently hosted a forum on transforming federal IT management at which Federal CIO Vivek Kundra discussed progress on the agency’s 25-point plan to reform IT management.

When an audience member asked a question about execution and accountability, Kundra said effective communication between industry and the government is essential for ensuring real change. In effect, Kundra was referencing the engagement strategy in points 24 and 25 of OMB’s plan. The effort requires changing a government culture calcified through misinterpretation of procurement policy, risk aversion and a tendency to continue acting in ways counterproductive to effective program outcomes.

To improve the state of communications between industry and government, we must overcome artificial barriers. Although the Federal Acquisition Regulation encourages robust exchanges with industry early and often in the procurement process, they rarely occur. The result is poor market research, few true opportunities for competition and even greater obstacles for small businesses that want to participate in federal contracting.

In addition, programs break down and experience cost, schedule and performance issues as a result of requirements that are not properly spelled out early in a procurement.

One solution is the creation of a governmentwide, online, interactive platform for obtaining industry participation in the development of project requirements, which is Point 25 of OMB’s plan. That effort, spearheaded by the General Services Administration, will be an important tool for breaking down the artificial barriers in the acquisition process. With that tool, the requirements-development process and industry/government communications would be moved as far left of the acquisition cycle as possible, creating a needs-identification phase that is completely open and transparent.

As a result, the government will open the door to badly needed innovative solutions and capitalize on industry’s technical knowledge. In addition, small businesses would be given an opportunity from which they would otherwise be excluded, thereby further expanding market research efforts with the goal of increasing competition and developing better requirements and performance metrics during contract execution.

The interactive platform and subsequent discussions would have an impact on other far-reaching, long-term goals that center on the use of fixed-priced contracts and the ability to create performance-based contracts and focus on outcomes.

It is a fact that industry is more knowledgeable about the use of technology than the government is, so it is incumbent on the government to capitalize on industry’s knowledge and combine it with mission capability to create solutions that are delivered on time and within budget. Further, the government rarely knows what it truly needs, so opportunities exist for allowing industry to propose solutions based on requirements developed in an open, transparent environment, thereby creating a level playing field for all to participate and compete.

The requirements-development process would create a partnership with industry that is vital to changing the current environment of poor communications, misunderstood or erroneous requirements, and program outcomes that are unacceptable in a time of fiscal constraints and desperately needed improvements in performance. Although innovation is needed in how the government buys, it is equally important for government to innovate in the way it communicates with industry and break down the artificial barriers that plague performance at taxpayers’ expense.

About the Author

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above