Official: Katrina taught DHS procurement lessons

Hurricane Katrina taught the Homeland Security Department important lessons about procurement, the department’s acting chief procurement officer said Dec. 15.

The devastating August storm showed the need for contingency planning within each federal department and across them, Elaine Duke said at a gathering of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management, a nonprofit industry group, in Washington, D.C.

Staff members dedicated to contingency planning are essential, Duke added. “Contracting vehicles can’t happen without the people piece,” she said.

The hurricane helped the procurement office “recognize the need for planning, preparedness and communication at all levels” within DHS; with federal, state and local partners; and with the acquisition community, Duke said.

She defended DHS’ response to Katrina. She noted that the department has established an oversight board for Katrina-related contracts and procurements. After the storm, DHS opened a contracting office specifically for those contracts, and it will remain open through January 2006, she said.

“We have responded very well to Hurricane Katrina,” Duke said. “We as a federal government are very dedicated to [responding] to these disasters.”

DHS’ response to Katrina will not delay contract awards for two major new information technology acquisition programs, Duke said.

DHS introduced the programs, the Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge (EAGLE) solutions program for IT services and the First Source program for IT commodities, in August to improve how the department buys IT. The department intends to award both contracts next year and finish them within nine months of their award dates, DHS officials said.

The department will thoroughly evaluate all proposals in a timely, efficient manner, but it has not yet announced when it will award contracts, Duke said.

“These two contract programs are critical to our success,” she said. “This is so important to our future that we’re going to do it right.”

Response to EAGLE has been overwhelming, Duke said. Response to First Source is also growing, with many proposals containing questions about configuration, she added.

First Source is designed to encourage small-business participation because it is set aside for businesses with 150 employees or fewer. EAGLE has both small-business set asides and open bidding.

Duke took over acquisition responsibility for DHS Dec. 2, when Greg Rothwell, her former boss, retired.

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