Oral presentations ease buying process

The administration is pushing the use of oral presentations as a major element of the federal procurement process, and it has published its first extensive guidelines on the issue.

Oral presentations are meant to substitute for traditional written material presented in an offeror's proposal and to give contracting officials a better first-hand idea of a potential contractor's capabilities.

The technique has already made its mark in several recent high-profile procurements. In a Treasury Department contract for a public relations campaign to introduce the new $100 bill, for example, use of two-hour presentations by the five participating vendors reportedly cut paperwork from an expected 200 pages apiece to just 30.

"In some of the early uses of this, vendors haven't believed we were really serious that it is supposed to replace written proposals," said Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. "The vendors who are going to save money are the ones who realize this is serious. We do mean we are actually going to get rid of significant parts of traditional written proposals."

In a foreword to the guidelines, Lloyd Pratsch, procurement executive at the State Department and chairman of the federal Procurement Executives Association, said the document stemmed from a desire to improve the procurement process within the framework of existing regulations, and oral presentations was seen as "an idea whose time had come."

Federal officials had also shown a lot of initial resistance to the idea, said James Williams, deputy assistant commissioner, procurement, at the Internal Revenue Service and a member of PEA's Procurement Innovation Working Group.

"A lot of contracting officials think that everything has to be down in writing, which is what had led to such voluminous contracts," Williams said. "We don't feel it needs to be that way."

Industry seems supportive of the move. Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said most of his members would feel confident about making oral presentations because they do it when selling to industry.

It is at the government contracting level that the bottlenecks could occur, Allen said, because "the average government contracting person hasn't a clue this has been proposed. "People at the government managerial level are coming up with lots of good ideas," he said, "but things are so fast-paced right now that it's taking a long time for the line-level people to catch up."

Williams conceded that point and also stressed that oral presentations are not meant to be a panacea for all contracting problems. But the guidelines will give contracting people a first idea of how such presentations can be applied, he said.

Copies of the guidelines can be ordered from Jerry Bellows at the Energy Department by fax, (202) 586-1025. Copies will also eventually be posted on the Acquisition Reform Network.

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-- Elana Varon contributed to this story.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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