Defense agencies adjust procurement thinking

At a time when the government is drawing borders around contractors, some defense officials on the cutting edge of technology are pinning their hopes on their close partnerships with companies.

The Defense Information Systems Agency’s top official is making industry relations a priority for improving — and even streamlining — the agency’s procurement process.

DISA is trying to create better requests for information that are designed to explain a developing project’s goals more clearly, said Kathleen Miller, DISA’s director of procurement and chief of the Defense IT Contracting Office. Miller spoke Aug. 16 at the DISA Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore.


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“We are concerned about prices…given the environment,” Miller said. “We have to be.”

To help develop technologies affordably, DISA is seeking feedback from contractors. Officials have used industry days and draft solicitations to gather input from experts outside government. The result might be future requests for proposals (RFPs) with more appropriately designed technology.

However, several experts say industry days might not be the best way to get in-depth ideas on cutting-edge technology.

Officials at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command are adopting a new approach by allowing companies to comment on an initial acquisition concept and thereby help develop the overview of the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network. NGEN will be the follow-on to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet and is the first step toward the Navy’s vision of a fully integrated Naval Networking Environment.

The acquisition concept gives industry ongoing input and insight during the moldable stage of developing a program’s requirements. The approach is similar to a draft RFP that doesn’t require senior leaders’ approval. RFPs are typically vetted through many offices with officials staking their claims to various aspects. Those claims can be hard to remove, even during comment periods.

The acquisition concept “doesn’t have to be blessed by so many people,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, which worked on the first concept.

Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group and a former senior IT official at a number of federal agencies, said acquisition concepts get ideas out to industry much faster and work best for projects that have unclear requirements and are critical to an agency’s mission.

Officials will get better feedback on an acquisition concept than they do during an industry day, he added. With an acquisition concept, “people roll up their sleeves and get down into the details,” Woods said.

Suss said Navy officials broadened the possibilities by using an acquisition concept to define NGEN’s requirements.

“This is a sign the Navy is thinking about the best way to do this,” he said about NGEN.

About the Author

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

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