Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GAO and Success: Acquisition Workforce the Common Factor

With the collapse of the Congressional “supercommittee’s” budget deal on deficit reduction, federal managers, and their industry counterparts, are being told to prepare for the worst , as possible mandatory cuts are on the horizon for 2013.

In the mean time, federal managers will need to continue to find ways to save money and do more with less. To help programs succeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently came out with a report that highlights best practices for IT acquisition and execution. Combined with the Office of Management and Budget's 25 point IT reform plan, these two products create a powerful blueprint for what programs should be doing to improve outcomes, and be considered successful by meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals.

The one common denominator for program success is a steady, skilled acquisition workforce to execute these other principals. This should not come as a surprise. However, what was surprising is that the Defense Information Systems Agency's Global Combat Support System-Joint program did not list this fact as a critical success factor (similar to 6 out of 7 dentists recommend flossing for healthy teeth? Who actually goes to that one dentist?)

Putting aside the other factors, having a skilled, trained and stable acquisition workforce is critical to success in any program, and more than now than ever. The acquisition workforce, especially in contracting, must be able to act as business advisors and really lead the way in helping shape sound business practices. This includes pre-acquisition through contract execution. The program manager, in addition to the use of Integrated Program Teams, also are critical to ensuring that everyone is building requirements properly, proper contracts and metrics are in place, and then of course executing using the sound business practices categorized in the GAO report.

Regretfully, these budgets cuts and contract reductions can only be a detriment to implementing these best practices. With hiring freezes, reducing training budgets, and mandates to cut services contracts (such as acquisition support contracts), fewer opportunities will exist to improve performance. Coupled with the "low price at all cost" contract selection methodology, a thousand cuts are on the way to an environment of even further reduced performance, in addition to more fraud, waste, and abuse.

GAO and Inspector Generals will be quite busy in the next 24 months, but reports of program success will more than likely be a distant memory in this future timeframe.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Are One-on-Ones Necessary for Market Research?

As the government looks for way to save money and improve performance, the topic of adopting best practices for IT acquisitions continues to be at the forefront of the conversation. However, implementing those best practices continue to be challenging, especially in the thought process when comes to one-on-one sessions.

When it comes to market research, the government continues to struggle to open the door to industry, thus robbing itself of improvements on the overall acquisition process. Specifically, requirements continue to be developed in a vacuum, exacerbated by poorly defined stakeholders analysis and moving forward without understanding needs.

In the commercial sector, the closer firms get to signing a contract, the more collaboration occurs. However, the opposite is true in the federal sector. Incoming contractors should be given all the information that is not proprietary to the incumbent to be successful, including budgets and prices currently paid for incumbent services.

However, some government procurement officials disagree. According to these officials, it is up to industry to respond fully and openly with responses to an RFI and during an Industry Day. Further, it is simply a matter of time versus value, as industry will simply use the opportunity in a one-on-one to strengthen their position during capture management by trying to slant government requirements in their direction.

The more government communicates with industry, the more likely the government will get quality services at realistic prices. Although it has almost become standard practice for government buyers to hold an Industry Day, it is assumed that no further communications with industry are necessary. Further, many buying offices simply will not conduct one-on-one meetings with vendors because of incorrectly assuming that favoritism and ethical issues are land mines that should be avoided at all costs.

Questions for industry and government:
  1. How do we work together to change these perceptions? 
  2. Are one-on-ones worth the time and effort, from both perspectives? 
  3. What other tools are available to increase collaboration?