As part of an effort to reform the federal acquisition process for technology, US Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, unveiled an ambitious 25-point plan for addressing many of the issues that plague the way the government purchases technology in hopes of delivering more value to the taxpayer. Part of the implementation plan was to counter the misunderstandings about how industry and government can engage with one another during the acquisition process, specifically by government. Because of the artificial barriers between government agencies and their industry partners, rampant waste and program delays have become the norm that erode the value of these IT investments.
To combat the status quo, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has launched a “myth-busters” campaign to educate government, and eliminate public sector barriers to communication and enhance awareness of the most efficient and effective technologies available in the private sector. Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFFP) Administrator, Dan Gordon, outlined in his Feb. 2nd memo the planned outcome of this campaign, which is to remove communication barriers and improve the overall acquisition process that includes specific initiatives on needs identification, requirements definition, acquisition strategy formulation, market research, the proposal process, and contract execution.
I have been writing about the need for improved communication as a central theme of acquisition reform for some time (here, here, and here), so I am glad this formalized implementation plan has taken shape. What I am also glad to see is that the communication plan is not only a public sector initiative, but is also being done with industry.
Leading this effort is the industry group the American Council for Technology (ACT) - Industry Advisory Council (IAC), which has launched an online forum called BetterGovernmentIT.org, to collect feedback that will later be reviewed by OMB, the Chief Information Officers Council and the Chief Acquisition Officers Council, according to ACT-IAC. This site, which is styled after the General Services Administration's BetterBuyProject, uses crowd-sourcing techniques for contracting professionals to identify common myths about vendor engagement and information that will help improve public/private communication. One important option included is to engage anonymously, which will hopefully encourage dialogue without the fear of retribution by government officials or providing other firms competitive information.
These encouraging efforts can only help improve what is a truly becoming a broken system where communication barriers are getting more and more entrenched. What can truly improve the overall process is having open communications with industry as early in the process as possible. These early communications, in the need identification stage, can greatly improve the requirements development process, which I believe to be a truly broken process. These early exchanges can vastly improve the chances of good acquisition outcomes, which includes reduced costs, improved performance, innovative solutions, increased competition, and with proper oversight, improved overall government management.
These public/private efforts have the ability to produce desired effect, but only if these efforts are coordinated. OMB, OFPP, and ACT-IAC need to ensure data and feedback from their respective efforts are all shared amongst each other, which includes sharing lessons learned, and transfer knowledge. It would be a shame if effort to improve communication were conducted in the same, stove-piped echo chamber they are being conducted now. As these initiatives move forward, the increased communications can only help shape the future of acquisitions to the benefit of the taxpayer.