Note to DOD IG: "Assisted acquisition" does mean "provide help"

DOD IG guidance moves GSA's Office of Assisted Services in the wrong direction, subtracting rather than adding value for their government customers.

I learned something interesting — and another strange story in the annals of how inspectors general tend to view the procurement process — at a recent discussion with executives at the General Services Administration's Office of Assisted Acquisition Services. (This is the office that Mary Davie, the government's irrepressible Web 2.0 hero, leads.)  I will confess that I have always been a friend of the idea of assisted acquisition — for agency customers who want it and are willing to pay — and indeed sometimes been critical of GSA for not seeing its assistance mission widely enough.

The Office of Assisted Acquisition Services helps government customers award contracts using its own vehicles, such as Alliant, or other GSA vehicles, such as the GSA schedules. All too often in the past, this has simply involved running a competition — or, sometimes, a noncompetitive award process. In many cases, the office's chief competitive advantage was the ability to keep end-of-year money for use in a following year.  Although I am sympathetic to agency frustration over a dysfunctional budget process that produces these end-of-year issues, nonetheless, under existing law, GSA was often near or over a line. A few years ago, the issue blew up on GSA, and the agency had to return several billion Defense Department dollars to the Treasury, making it useless to DOD. That sent the assisted acquisition office into a tailspin from which it just now seems to be recovering.

A more value-added business model, from the government's perspective, is to use these assisted acquisitions as a source of surge contracting capacity when an agency faces an especially large acquisition and, even more importantly (in my view), to get expert help with development of performance-based work statements, incentive plans, opportunities for partial contract conversion into fixed-price work and post-award contract management. In other words, the office should be a source of expert contracting advice to help write requirements better, develop good contracting strategies and manage contracts once awarded.

Unfortunately, the DOD Inspector General has developed guidance for DOD that goes against that principle. It is telling DOD components that they may not use the Office of Assisted Acquisition Services until they have developed a complete acquisition package — requirements, contract type, incentive plan — on their own. That approach moves the Office of Assisted Acquisition Services in the wrong direction, subtracting rather than adding value for their government customers.

And, because DOD is a crucial part of the office's customer base, it will make it more difficult for GSA to develop the critical mass of expertise in these value-added services that they need to support all government customers, including civilian agencies. So this weird IG view is not just hurting DOD but the government as a whole. I am presuming the guidance stems from the IG's hostility to paying fees to another agency, but the gains from better requirements and contracting strategy, on large deals, should far outweigh any fees. This is part of beefing up the contracting workforce that, in other contexts, the IG says it endorses.

The IG's advice should be the opposite of what has come out from its office.

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