The tax agency's procurement leaders want a more open dialogue with industry, but acknowledge that message doesn’t always make its way down the chain of command.
The Internal Revenue Service wants industry to know the agency is open for business and willing to work with new partners.
At their second-ever reverse industry day April 4, procurement officials held court with businesses of all stripes in an effort to improve the lines of communications and clear up any misconceptions.
A perception that the agency may be unfriendly to new contractors is one of those misconceptions, according to deputy chief procurement officer Harrison Smith. Smith recounted an experience he had about a month into his tenure at IRS. While attending a trade association event, one of the presenters put up a slide advising vendors, “You can’t do business with the IRS unless you do business with IRS.”
“In my interpretation [that] means that if you are not an incumbent with the IRS, your opportunities may be limited,” said Smith.
It concerned him and Chief Procurement Officer Shanna Webbers that this was the perception industry had when it came to contracting with the IRS, and the episode served as one of the drivers that led the agency to kick off a series of reverse industry days to improve the lines of communication with vendors.
“That’s one of the mantras that we’ve tried to continue to let our staff know,” said Webbers. “It’s not a perspective that we want. It’s not a reputation, real or perceived, that we want with our industry partners.”
The procurement shop is looking to hold at least one reverse industry day per year and Webbers said they are looking at ways to facilitate virtual attendance in the near future. The agency is looking to become more efficient and spent much of the past year chopping down the byzantine policy manual that guides procurement decisions from more than 750 pages to less than 100.
IRS officials are also looking to implement better planning on the front end of procurements. Webber said that unless she’s dealing with a large contract or program, she often doesn’t have a solid idea of what is coming down the pipeline until the program office delivers requirements for a bid. That inhibits the kind of long-term planning that would facilitate clearer communication with industry, and the agency is working on developing an enterprise-wide dashboard to provide visibility across the acquisition lifecycle.
“Getting that information sounds easy. It’s hard to actually do,” said Webbers. “At that point you are at the end of the process in terms of execution, so the amount of time that we have is pretty limited at that point to meet the need.”