DOT nurtures competition culture

Several years ago, Linda Washington, the competition advocate at the Transportation Department, decided to enlist the support of her department’s senior leadership.

Washington designated a senior manager in each of the department’s 10 operating administrations and its office of the secretary to advocate for competition. The advocates work to champion competition and influence competitive acquisition strategy early in the contracting process, she said. The arrangement provides a senior-level focus to boost competition.

“We’ve developed an acquisition culture,” Washington said. She also serves as DOT’s chief human capital officer.

Since 2005, the department has continued to climb up the rankings compared to 17 other agencies that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy tracks on an annual basis. In 2005, DOT ranked number 16 among 18 agencies and departments. DOT climbed to 14th place in 2006 by competing 61 percent of
$1.1 billion in contracted dollars. In 2007, DOT tied with three other departments and agencies for sixth place by competing  76 percent of $2.57 billion, according to OFPP.

DOT officials knew they had issues to address when they reviewed their procurement spending program in 2004, Washington said. The numbers proved that the department’s competition levels were too low.

As they created a plan to raise those numbers, “we thought the first thing we’ve got to do is change the culture,” Washington said. The transition to DOT’s new headquarters building in Washington, D.C., was the right time to change it because  employees were already undergoing one major shift, she said.

DOT officials now include the competition phase in the early stages of an acquisition, Washington said. At the start of a fiscal year, contracting officers begin discussions with program managers about possible purchases for that year. DOT also pushes program managers to understand their role as buyers in the acquisition process. As the details become more clear, the contracting officers and managers can allow for more time to receive bids for more complex contracts.

Washington said people on both sides of the acquisition process must emphasize ongoing discussions. “All of them have the same needs,” she said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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