AB: Allan Burman is President of Jefferson Solutions (Solutions), the government consulting practice of the Jefferson Consulting Group. Before joining Jefferson, Al Burman had a lengthy career in the Federal government, serving in policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.He served as the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
DD: Dave Drabkin is the Corporate Director of Acquisition Policy for Northrop Grumman. Dave is responsible for influencing and representing the formation of Acquisition Policy by the Federal government from Northrop Grumman’s perspective. Dave previously served as the Senior Procurement Executive of the US General Services Administration. Dave served as one of the FAR signatories, supervised FAI and IAE. He served as a staff member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Dave was appointed by the President and served as a member of the Section 1423 (SARA) Panel.
RFP-EZ is one of the 5 Obama administration’s projects for the Presidential Innovation Fellows, and we’re going to do some real collaborating... We’re going to talk to two experts and try to help them out.
First, some background for those who not have heard about the Presidential Innovation Fellows or the projects.
Project RFP-EZ is one of five initiatives that are part of the Obama administration’s Digital Government Initiative. The initiatives are led by Presidential Innovation Fellows -- these are small teams that were being called in for a six-month stint to provide outside the box thinking to vexing problems. And the initiatives range from MyGov, which is tasked to reimagining the relationship between the federal government and its citizens through by essentially creating an online portal for the government. How’s that for a challenging task.
Here are some of our questions and the panel's answers
The RFP-EZ concept: Comedians often say if you don't buy the premise, you won't buy the bit. The goal of RFP-EZ is above. Is this something that can be done in this kind of "Little Bet" way -- are there small things that can be done to move the ball forward?
C.J. described it: to make it so businesses who wouldn't ordinarily contract with government, contract with government. To make it so new small businesses can easily get small contracts with the government, and so that government doesn't spend so much money on IT.
A.B. getting a bunch of smart people together is a great idea. But the programs success might hinge on how many people they can get to buy into the project.
D.D. the difficulty with the group now is that the rules are so acquisition rules are so arcane. They (fellows) don't have the skills to bear. They will need to come up with the innovative ideas and then turn over the rules parts to the people who really know procurement issues.
What are the biggest challenge here?
A.B. the biggest challenge is not the technology approach. The challenge is creating an acquisition environment that allows the fellows to actually succeed. We've got a lot of rules, so they need to make sure they stay within the bounds.
D.D. there hasn't been a major update to the procurement world since the 1990s when Al Gore came up with the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. The changes did allow new companies into the market. But since then it hasn't updated them.
Best Value vs. Best Price Approach
A.B. we had some success back in the late 80s when we shifted to a best value approach. But now we are moving away from that.
D.D. overtime shrinking budgets in government have shifted back to more of a low price model. Acquisition folks are scared the oversight community will not see the value. Clearly we have to look at the function of the oversight community. It is needed and important. But it is not the decision making progress. Risk is acceptable if it is smart. Acquisition folks need to keep that in mind.
One of the big challenges for small businesses is government can seem overwhelming. What can they do to help?
C.J. we quickly figured out that we needed a way to empower small businesses.
The RFP-EZ team is working on a suite of tools that they believe will make the process more agile -- a Statement of Work producer... a bid tracker...
D.D. one of the things we haven't done since the 90s is create a new tool of the acquisition community. There is no consistent way to manage contracts and awards. A new tool would be HUGE. It could help provide transparency and would actually show what the government buys everyday.
A.B. the tool is a great idea. Now we just need to think of promoting it.
C.J. these are relatively inexpensive projects -- they fall under the $150,000 threshold where agencies can do simplified acquisitions. We want to shift acquisition pros away from low value work. Most of the software is for the acquisition community, it's not to make the government work like ebay. So far the Paper Reduction Act has been a main priority. We have been around for 5 weeks and have already launched 5 software shipments.
C.J. existing solutions already exist in some cases. The government is really taking a chance an is experimenting on the fellows program.
The fellows highlight the language barrier as one of the big challenges -- government and government contracting speak. Thoughts?
The list of challenges -- language... culture and adoption... policy and regulation -- which of these should they really be focusing on? Are they missing any?
D.D. the culture issue is going to be hard. The fellows will need to concentrate on what could be before they get bogged down in the "as is" of the current system.
A.B. they need to make sure that they bring in folks that know what the real concerns are.
How would RFP-EZ impact competition?
A.B. to a degree the current acquisition rules limit competition. We should value competitiveness not by the number of bids but by the quality of contracts.
Before FASA we bought $50,000 worth of toilet paper the same way we bought R&D and that's not right.
What is the impact of the Age of Austerity?
D.D. firmly believe the acquisition that occurred the 90s wouldn't have happened if we weren't driven by money issues. But my concern is that with the current fiscal constraints we might go backwards.
A.B. the idea of "good enough for government," is not the way we should be thinking. I think the RFP-EZ program will be innovative if they find success.
C.J. we look at RFP-EZ as a money saving device.
How can we help?
C.J. we are looking for acquisition people's input. What are you buying now that could cost significantly less in the private sector? Take a look at our software, let us know if it is a positive solution? We don't want to develop in a vacum. We NEED public input.