Thursday, June 6, 2013

Institutionalizing MythBusters: The Need for Better Industry and Government Collaboration

Last week, the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) conducted their inaugural 2013 Mythbusting Awards to three Federal agencies for their work in improving vendor communications in the acquisition process. The program also contained a forum on Mythbusting, in addition to breakout sessions on various MythBusters issues related to the previous memos and survey results released by ACT-IAC. Lastly, the program recognized the agencies (Department of Homeland Security or DHS, The National Reconnaissance Office, The Department of State) making improvements in the way they interact with collaboration, and to share those results and best practices with the group.
Having attended the event, I think any opportunity to acknowledge and discuss the value of industry and government collaboration is an important step in improving acquisition outcomes. Like most ACT-IAC events, it was well done and productive.
I discussed this event with an acquisition official that did not attend, but more importantly, did not think this event or initiative had any merit. His belief was that government officials should not be rewarded simply for doing their jobs, and industry should not be granting awards acknowledging what they should be doing in the first place.
He makes a valid and interesting argument, no doubt. However, it is too easy to dismiss recognizing those that are making a positive impact on government management.
In fact, these types of awards should be handed out with more frequency, as the knowledge transfer would be invaluable to reverse the trend of the closed-door policies that seem firmly entrenched in regards to government and industry relations.
In these fiscally austere times, communications between industry and government are vitally important to develop affordable programs, and to ensure that requirements for programs are done in an environment of realism.
I am not talking about what passes for market research these days, which is the government issuing a Request for Information, and then that is it. In the award citation by ACT-IAC, DHS was cited for creating initiatives to lower barriers to effective communication:
The Department of Homeland Security emphasizes quality government-industry communication as part of its strategic plan and its new vendor communication framework.  DHS created an industry liaison council and a small business council to increase the effectiveness of its dialogue with industry. DHS has rolled out industry- led seminars to educate the acquisition workforce on private sector business processes, and appointed two personnel as centralized resources for vendors seeking information about DHS acquisitions. DHS has also developed seven industry-government communication metrics to measure its success.
It is about, as Office of Federal Procurement Policy Deputy Administrator Lesley Field noted, "institutionalizing Mythbusting." That is to say, creating a culture where effective industry and government relations, communications, and collaboration are the norm and not the exception.
Further, we are in a desperate need of shifting the culture of risk aversion and lack of accountability, combined with an understanding of the value that effective communications with industry bring to the table.
It is a fact that better relationships between government and industry create more value to the taxpayer, through improved outcomes, and less fraud, waste, and abuse. Now is not the time to shut doors, but to open them, so that government can communicate what it can afford, and industry can communicate what value it can provide at the affordability targets. Will revisions in requirements be necessary? What about adjusting expectations?
No question. However, how do we do that if we are not talking to each other?
Industry is not the enemy. There is no silver bullet here, but we must continue providing the opportunities and tools to the acquisition workforce on how to conduct market research, and the value it brings.
“There is no time” is not a valid excuse. There seems to be endless amounts of time to correct mistakes, but never enough time to prevent them for occurring in the first place. Acquisition planning and forecasting is a strategic initiative that must be made a priority with leadership, and not be treated as a paper-pushing exercise.
Until then, let’s keep presenting these awards.