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DHS Procurement Chief Seeks Continuous Improvement

The Federal Insider For Nick Nayak, public service runs in the family. The son of a 30-year scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Nayak was recently named chief procurement officer at the Homeland Security Department. He brings a lot of experience to the job, having spent nearly two decades in a variety of posts at the IRS.

Of procurement at DHS, Nayak said, “This is my swim lane. I was almost destined to come to this agency.” He was one of many thousands of Americans who were flying the morning of 9/11, and said he’s felt the pull of the DHS mission ever since. In fact, airplanes have figured into his career more than once. He was picked to be the project executive for investigating the plane flown into an Austin, Texas IRS building by a disturbed man last year. A longstanding career IRS manager was killed.

IRS is still implementing a series of physical safety measures as a result of the project, Nayak said. “The goal was finding ways to protect employees. Lots of countermeasures are being implemented.”

Nayak points out that the sprawling DHS spends $14 billion a year via 95,000 contracts spread across 500 programs. Money is channeled through nine organizations. The procurement groups of two of the nine report directly to Nayak. They are headquarters, responsible for $5 billion, and top-secret activities, the total purchases of which are undisclosed. The seven other agencies have dotted line reporting to Nayak. They are Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), FEMA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration. Nayak himself reports to the DHS undersecretary for management, Raphael Borras.

Five areas for quality improvement form the framework for Nayak’s approach to running the procurement shop — people, contracting, project management, government-industry relations and customer service.

The big quality people initiative, Nayak said, is bringing interns into a professional certification program for acquisition. It’s a three-year process, and so far 206 have been hired. Said Nayak, “They rotate to the components for training and skill development. After three years, they’re ready to enter the workforce.” Skills and jobs covered include contracting officer, cost estimating, systems engineering, IT management, and logistics. The interns come in as GS-7s or 9s. Of the program, Nayak said, “I feel good about the future of DHS acquisition.”

Nayak said he feels DHS, thanks to its recruiting efforts, has sufficient people to staff its needs for contracting officers and contracting officers technical representatives. That’s important because COTRs have been cited by both the Office of Federal Procurement and by the inspectors general and commissions overseeing contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan as crucial to making sure the aims of programs and contracts are realized.

For quality contracting, Nayak said DHS is emphasizing strategic sourcing and has 29 contracts in place for commodities purchased across the department. For example, several agencies buy dogs, and so savings were realized by combining those purchases into a single agreement. Headquarters is leading the effort to strategically source wireless. Customs and Border Protection is the lead agency for use of reverse auctions for office commodity supplies, Nayak said.

Program management improvement is a third priority, Nayak said, Of the 500 programs running in DHS, 80 are designated as major, meaning they entail procurements of $300 million or more. “How do you have real-time insight for oversight?” he asked. Taking a cue from the dashboard strategy pushed by the Office of Management and Budget, Nayak said his shop is working on a decision support tool. For customer service, Nayak pointed to plans for surveying DHS users.

A final area the procurement shop is concentrating on is communication between industry and government. (Nayak will appear on a panel on this topic I’ll be moderating at the FedSMC conference next month.) Nayak said DHS was working on improving this collaboration even before OMB launched the Myth Busters campaign. That’s an initiative to get procurement, acquisition and program managers in government to engage more in pre-solicitation and pre-RFP. The idea is to improve requirements. “We know we want to interact more with industry to get clearer requirements,” Nayak said. “There are a whole bunch of things to communicate, keep up with and collaborate on for major buys.”

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