Jim Ropelewski is the Senior Procurement Officer for the Department of Education and the Deputy CFO for Management and Operations.
He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the biggest challenges facing federal contractors is the budget.
Biggest Challenge for Contractors:
“The biggest challenge, in this time of continuing resolutions and the sequester, is trying to make sure we have a clear understanding of where the budgets are going to go and what we need to potentially change. We have to work with the program offices to make sure we are getting them what they need.”
Set Requirements with Industry in Mind:
- Problem: “Meeting with industry needs to be part of the market research. Those meetings need to be part of how contracting officers define requirements. If they don’t have conversations with the private sector then they don’t have a complete picture of the trends of the industry, the commercial best practices and the various other things that can help us get better products and services for our customers.”
- Solution: “We’ve taken advantage of webinars with potential vendors, one-on-one meetings and in some cases face-to-face sit downs to get a better idea of what the market is offering. You don’t have to spend the money to go to conferences anymore, you can use technology to have those same conversations.”
Focus on the requirements:
- Problem: “When you have budgets in the air, the program staff can be reluctant to really spend a lot of time focusing on the requirement piece ahead of time. But if they wait until they receive the funding on a certain acquisition then they’re running under a time crunch and you aren’t spending enough time on the requirements.”
- Solution: “We really encourage folks to prioritize and do as much as they can with what they think is going to come down the pipe even if they do not have a clear picture in regards to whether they will get the funding for it or not. They can still do their market research and define the requirements.”
“There are positives and negatives to the modular approach. It certainly gives you a shorter timeframe, so if you need to make adjustments you have the ability to do it. But in the long run you might pay a little more because you are cutting it into smaller pieces then if you just bought one large contract.”
The role of the senior leader:
“The role of the senior leader needs to be about removing obstacles so the staff can do their job. Leaders need to be involved at the outset of any acquisition and throughout they need to have their roles clearly defined.”
In addition leaders should:
- Make sure they are putting the right people on the team.
- Manage any sort of budgetary issue.
- Create an environment in which well researched creativity, innovation and well reasoned risks are encouraged.
- Clearly define and articulate priorities.
- Continuous checkins.
- Make continuous learning a priority.
- Leverage subject matter experts internally to hold lunch-and-learn sessions or swap experts from another agency to hold training sessions.
For more acquisition tips check out GovLoop’s and Integrity Management Consulting’s new guide: Addressing the Complex Challenges of Today’s Acquisition Professional.
From generating requirements, to planning, obtaining and sustaining capabilities, the acquisition process, if implemented effectively, can contribute significantly to accomplishing an agency’s mission more efficiently. As the largest purchaser of goods and services in the nation, the Federal government’s acquisition process is complex and under more pressure than ever with tightened budgets and a shifting workforce.
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