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“Mythbusting” to Improve Communication with Vendors

Vivek Kundra, U. S. Chief Information Officer, and Dan Gordon, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy

Federal IT contracts can be difficult to manage if the government’s requirements are not well-defined or are developed with incomplete information about the market; this often results in waste, delayed program delivery, and erosion of the value of IT investments. Inadequate communication with industry is often driven by commonly-held misunderstandings about what level of vendor engagement is permitted. This is why the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum targeted at increasing effective communication with industry, a key deliverable under the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management. In order to deliver the best results for the American people at the best price, agencies should increase communication with industry prior to the award of contracts, and identifies the top ten myths that are barriers to effective communication. This “mythbusting” memorandum will help agencies gather important information about the marketplace, especially the IT marketplace, before defining requirements and negotiating contracts and orders – cutting waste and improving the critical services upon which Americans depend.

Listening sessions with industry and government stakeholders revealed that government officials often believe that they are not allowed – and certainly not encouraged – to engage with industry in certain circumstances. Inadequate communication with industry is often cited as a reason behind cost, schedule, and performance problems related to complex procurements, particularly in IT. The memorandum issued today tackles the top ten misconceptions, and details the broad flexibility that existing rules provide for early, frequent, responsible, and constructive engagement with industry. Among the misconceptions that most need to be challenged include:

  • “The government cannot meet one-on-one with a potential offeror.”
    • Fact: Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.
  • “A protest is something to be avoided at all costs – even if it means the government limits conversations with industry.”
    • Fact: Restricting communication won’t prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.
  • “Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule.”
    • Fact: Whether discussions should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make. Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counter-productive, and may cause delays and other problems during contract performance.

To address these and other misconceptions, we will continue outreach throughout 2011 to educate the federal acquisition workforce and industry on more effective engagement strategies and will develop a community of practice to further improve communication. Leveraging the power of effective communication between agencies and industry will result in better IT acquisition planning and execution and better results for citizens.

In fact, if you have ideas or comments on how we can improve government-industry communication, we urge you to join the discussion here.

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