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Better Buy Project Moves Forward

From The Acquisition Corner

As collaboration tools, Gov 2.0, and other initiatives to encourage transparency and solicit input from stakeholders move forward, a pilot on this front met today to discuss implementing these ideas and creating further momentum via proof of concept.

The Better Buy Project, as I discussed in a previous post, is a collaborative initiative between the General Services Administration (GSA), the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) and the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA). The initiative is focused on collecting ideas to help shape the future of acquisition, with the ultimate goals of creating an acquisition process that is world-class through a concept of “crowdsourcing.”

Moderating the panel was Chris Dorobek of Federal News Radio, who was jokingly introduced as the Most Interesting Man in the World (I told him I would include in this post, so here it is!). Although I did not actively ask questions, and Chris did a great job moderating and going around the room soliciting input, my primary objective was to get the sense of the questions being asked and the level of awareness of the project. Further, I wanted to hear from the panelists, most notably Mary Davie of GSA, who has spearheaded the initiative through thoughtful and visionary leadership. Some of the issues addressed were interesting for what was discussed, but more so for issues that were left outstanding.

Of course one of the biggest issues to executing Gov 2.0 initiatives are the regulations and policies that need to be addressed to ensure compliance. The group discussed Section 508 and Federal Information Security Management Act or FISMA, in addition to overall security requirements most notably at Defense and raised by resident expert Noel Dickover. However, what remained mostly silent, and what interests me, is getting acquisition leaders interested and engaged. That seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to Gov 2.0; the metrics, the ROI, the impacts on the profession, and that real value can be difficult to measure or remains intangible. Although I think headway is being made on that front, certainly the need to communicate the real value added is vital for this and similar Gov 2.0 initiatives. For the Better Buy Project, and the overall Acquisition 2.0 movement, the message campaign is about buying faster, cheaper, and more effectively. Further, the tools should allow procurement professionals in both Government and industry to exchange meaningful information to create better requirements, facilitate market research, and help create the foundation for successful outcomes up front.

The Better Buy Project needs to do a better job of communicating to the user community what is being done with the ideas that are being posted and voted on, such that people can see that this initiative is for real. Just because an idea has the most votes does not necessarily mean it will get implemented. In fact, some of the ideas that have the most votes and commentary are due in part because they are out-of-scope, or require more clarification to understand the user’s intent. Along those lines, these initiatives need to get better input from naysayers, those who think these initiatives are fads and meaningless. Their input is just as vital to those who are engaged and actively participating. Only through a holistic approach to soliciting input can these pilots create the most value to overcome obstacles and come to fruition.

It is the end-state that ultimately matters, and to that end, GSA is actively taking input from Better Buy and looking for ways to implement them. As Chris Hamm, Operations Director of GSA’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM), and also a panelist mentioned, this is the hard part. Who is going to take the risk, and possibly the hit, for sticking their neck out to use these unproven tools in a risk-averse environment? What projects and in what state are needed? These are questions that of course need to be answered, but also prime areas for answers by Better Buy users. The collaboration could help GSA figure this out. Further, leadership and change management are again at the forefront of getting to the next step towards execution.

My end-state for federal procurement is to focus on outcomes and needs, and for Government to get out of the requirements writing business. The world-class federal procurement environment would be performance-based, with the focus on buying real best value through innovation, and to allow acquisition professionals to focus on oversight, surveillance, program management, and performance. I am a strong proponent of streamlining and standardization, as the uniqueness of agency missions, and in some cases, different organizations within an agency, is a canard to continuing status quo. I often consult with federal clients who have very commercial-like operations, yet feel they are unique and have to have everything custom built. Granted I am not proposing a one-size-fits-all approach, but looking for ways to streamline and standardize is not such a bad thing, and can go a long way to creating real savings through the elimination of redundancy and waste. These Gov 2.0 tools, and the initiatives like the Better Buy project, can go a long way to making this end-state a reality.

I hope that Better Buy and similar initiatives continue to find ways to engage the acquisition community, because I believe these tools are a badly needed tool for change. Combined with common sense approaches to process improvements, and working in the current environment without further legislation and laws that create confusion and ambiguity, federal procurement can once again be the starting point for successful government management and get the respect and positive attention it deserves.

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Christopher Dorobek

The interesting challenge for this initiative, it seems to me, is to create a way for government and industry to collaborate. As it is formulated now, the Better Buy Project is designed to highlight the problems and spur ideas around solutions — which is VERY valuable. But eventually, both government and industry are looking for a way to collaborate in a transparent, open way. Unfortunately that is challenging because industry doesn’t want to be THAT transparent because they could give away a competitive advantage.

My sense is that will be more complex issue then the regulatory hurdles. Rules and regs can be changed, but that adversity to sharing information for proprietary reasons is more difficult to overcome.


Good point Chris. There are a number of reasons that make Gov 2.0 difficult with the basis of it being that it is implementing cultural change which may put the current status quo and leadership in an awkward bind. What’s the incentive for them to change?

My sense is that change will take time but it will also happen as people are forced by new leaders. IMHO, lots of baby boomers didn’t get on Facebook until that was the only way to see their grandchildren. I think the same will occur with Gov 2.0 – as new more tech savvy political appointees and Xers move into leadership position and force the issue…that’s when change starts a movin…

Jaime Gracia

Thanks for sharing gentlemen. The value of the collaboration and what you get out of it is ultimately innovation, both internally and externally. The message internally I think is a bit easier, as GovLoop is a great example. Steve took this idea and it has morphed into a great place to exchange ideas, ask questions, and get answers from experts (i.e. Acquisition 2.0). Ultimately, the Gov 2.0 initiative is destined, I hope, to be a great resource for data as a toolkit for productivity. A great example of this is Where In Federal Contracting , in addition to DoD Wiki under development. It is explaining this value that helps facilitate change, but again it takes leadership and change agents to press things.

It is the external facing potential that is really a challenge, as Chris discusses, and also Pete Tuttle on the panel discussed yesterday. Industry desperately wants more meaningful exchanges with Government, but is certainly unwilling to provide any information on their end that is potentially damaging from a business perspective. There has to be a medium to improve the process to allow collaboration, but ultimately industry will have to be a driver on this front so they will engage and help solve this complex, yet highly valuable solution to a problem that ultimately benefits them. It again is the value proposition that engages, and it has to be leveraged.