COMMENTARY

Why procurement reform hinges on industry help

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm. He is also the industry chairman of the Better Government IT initiative, a joint effort by the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and the General Services Administration to improve government/industry communication and collaboration in the IT acquisition process and implement items 24 and 25 of OMB’s IT management reform plan.

The Office of Management Budget recently hosted a forum on transforming federal IT management at which Federal CIO Vivek Kundra discussed progress on the agency’s 25-point plan to reform IT management.

When an audience member asked a question about execution and accountability, Kundra said effective communication between industry and the government is essential for ensuring real change. In effect, Kundra was referencing the engagement strategy in points 24 and 25 of OMB’s plan. The effort requires changing a government culture calcified through misinterpretation of procurement policy, risk aversion and a tendency to continue acting in ways counterproductive to effective program outcomes.

To improve the state of communications between industry and government, we must overcome artificial barriers. Although the Federal Acquisition Regulation encourages robust exchanges with industry early and often in the procurement process, they rarely occur. The result is poor market research, few true opportunities for competition and even greater obstacles for small businesses that want to participate in federal contracting.

In addition, programs break down and experience cost, schedule and performance issues as a result of requirements that are not properly spelled out early in a procurement.

One solution is the creation of a governmentwide, online, interactive platform for obtaining industry participation in the development of project requirements, which is Point 25 of OMB’s plan. That effort, spearheaded by the General Services Administration, will be an important tool for breaking down the artificial barriers in the acquisition process. With that tool, the requirements-development process and industry/government communications would be moved as far left of the acquisition cycle as possible, creating a needs-identification phase that is completely open and transparent.

As a result, the government will open the door to badly needed innovative solutions and capitalize on industry’s technical knowledge. In addition, small businesses would be given an opportunity from which they would otherwise be excluded, thereby further expanding market research efforts with the goal of increasing competition and developing better requirements and performance metrics during contract execution.

The interactive platform and subsequent discussions would have an impact on other far-reaching, long-term goals that center on the use of fixed-priced contracts and the ability to create performance-based contracts and focus on outcomes.

It is a fact that industry is more knowledgeable about the use of technology than the government is, so it is incumbent on the government to capitalize on industry’s knowledge and combine it with mission capability to create solutions that are delivered on time and within budget. Further, the government rarely knows what it truly needs, so opportunities exist for allowing industry to propose solutions based on requirements developed in an open, transparent environment, thereby creating a level playing field for all to participate and compete.

The requirements-development process would create a partnership with industry that is vital to changing the current environment of poor communications, misunderstood or erroneous requirements, and program outcomes that are unacceptable in a time of fiscal constraints and desperately needed improvements in performance. Although innovation is needed in how the government buys, it is equally important for government to innovate in the way it communicates with industry and break down the artificial barriers that plague performance at taxpayers’ expense.

About the Author

Jaime Gracia has 20 years of experience in the federal government sector, most recently as president of Seville Government Consulting, a professional services consultancy.

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