Procurement priorities take cues from commercial space

Acquisition policy is focusing on more transparent, innovative buying methods that take cues from commercial markets.

Lesley Field
 

Lesley Field, acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Cost and buying efficiency initiatives, such as category management and contract consolidation begun in the previous administration, will remain a constant as OMB's procurement policy office moves ahead, according to its acting administrator.

Lesley Field, acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, said those efforts have the universal pull of savings and leveraging the federal government's considerable buying power.

Both results, she said, appeal to any administration, as will other efforts that take cues from commercial markets on their approaches to IT buying, as well as efforts to streamline federal contracting work and tap vendor feedback.

The uncertainty that any new administration brings as it begins work is beginning to ease, said Field, speaking at the Professional Services Council's Vision conference on Nov. 2.

"I think it's becoming clear what the priorities are and, more importantly, how we're going to get there," Field said.

Those priorities include a desire to make the customer experience in obtaining the federal government's unique services more akin to the efficient, capable experiences customers are used to in the commercial world.

"We have so many choices for the things that we buy, we should be able to give the same kind of customer [experience] to the American public," she said.

Legislative work on acquisition rules in the pending National Defense Authorization Act are meant to be "bold," said Field, with an eye towards pushing federal buying practices towards the more efficient and responsive habits in the commercial world. 

Some of the NDAA's provisions would increase the use of commercial items, allow online shopping for some items and reduce bid protests by providing more data to vendors.

"I think the administration has an appetite for that. The focus on the commercial items, commercial practices, and thinking about new ways of buying things, whether it's the online marketplace or some others things suggested, I think that shows that we're really looking to do things in a different way."

Some of OFPP's existing efforts, said Field, work well on that bolder, different path.

The office Acquisition 360 pilot, launched in 2015 by then-OFPP Administrator Anne Rung, is set to be expanded, according to Field. The program is a feedback tool aimed at allowing agencies and vendors to identify weaknesses in the acquisition processes, including pre-and post-award activities as well as post-award debriefings.

The Acquisition 360 pilot, said Field, has been limited a bit by Paperwork Reduction Act rules, but OFPP is working through that issue and plans to scale up the program once vendors and agencies indicate the 15-question questionnaire isn't a burden to complete.

The aim, she said, is to make the review part of the federal acquisition process.

Over the last few years, the federal government  has been moving towards leveraging common IT and services through a small number of contracts, instead of one-off contract vehicles, Field said.

Field said OFPP has recently designated 29 "best in class" contracts for various goods and services. Those contracts, she said, were winnowed down using "rigorous" evaluation methods.

The criteria included judging whether the particular contract was developed by a set of government agencies; had appropriate pricing strategies, such as volume buying; were measured against industry pricing benchmarks; and contained data-driven demand management strategies and had an independent review.

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