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Project of the Week – Federal Acquisition Innovation and Reform Institute

The Federal Acquisition Innovation and Reform (FAIR) Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, was recently launched by Raj Sharma, President and CEO of Censeo Consulting Group and Dr. Allan Burman, President of Jefferson Solutions within Jefferson Consulting Group . FAIR was created to work with key constituencies to promote a federal acquisition system that continually innovates to meet government policy objectives, exceeds world class standards of performance, and ensures the prudent use of taxpayer dollars.

I spoke with Raj Sharma, the President of the FAIR Institute to talk about why FAIR was created, and understand the vision and objectives and impact they intend to make on federal acquisition.

The vision for the FAIR Institute is pretty straightforward – to create and support “a world class federal acquisition system that supports government policy goals and program missions in the most innovative and efficient manner.” The founders of FAIR realized that to be able to have a real impact on federal acquisition policy, there needed to be an objective, experienced voice, one that could represent and integrate views from multiple constituents and stakeholders to create a holistic position. Another goal in creating the FAIR Institute was to bring in private sector, non-partisan positions representing commercial expertise and experience “beyond the beltway” that can be applied to the federal government. Raj feels that although other nonprofit organizations often tackle federal acquisition as one of several agendas, there is no one organization whose sole focus is federal acquisition.

The mission of the FAIR Institute is “to promote, drive and facilitate the implementation of a comprehensive policy and management agenda for the federal acquisition system by educating policy makers, facilitating collaboration among key constituencies and creating a tighter linkage between policy and operational execution. “

Guiding Principles –

• Promote objective, fact based policies that:
o Elevate the importance and stature of the acquisition function
o Optimize the entire acquisition system (as opposed to “siloed” solutions)
o Ensure compliance with regulations while incentivizing creativity and innovation on the part of the acquisition workforce
o Ensure optimal value for government while leveraging industry innovation and capabilities

• Leverage best practices (modified to be applied within a federal context) as well as new ideas to bring a fresh perspective to federal acquisition.

• Engage key constituencies to share knowledge, propose solutions and affect change

o Key constituencies include the Administration, relevant congressional committees and members, agency leadership and workforce, industry, academia, oversight and special interest groups

Short term strategic goals are:

• Provide recommendations to the Administration and congressional committees to address pertinent areas of current interest
o Key areas include:
 Federal acquisition reform
• Workforce and organizational alignment
• Performance improvement and strategic sourcing
• Cross-constituency collaboration
 Defense Acquisition Reform
 Stimulus spending and oversight

• Begin engaging broader acquisition community and various constituencies

Raj talked about very specific outcomes they hope to achieve: (1) raise the importance of and the profile of the acquisition function; and (2) shape better policy by educating and engaging policymakers. The policy focus is key and forms the basis of many of the Institute’s goals. For example, Raj understands that policy by itself doesn’t equal transformational change. They would like to promote objective, balanced, fact based policy that enables the acquisition system to better support the policy objectives of government. Policy must ensure compliance, help reduce fraud, waste and abuse, but also encourage and support innovation and creativity while enabling managed risk taking and result in intended outcomes. They intend to promote ideas to elevate the importance of the acquisition function and get government leaders to recognize the importance of the role of acquisition. Policy must also bring a commitment from federal leaders to support the development and promotion of the acquisition workforce. As Raj puts it, “there is lots of talk, but little real action” in this area. There are mechanisms for “checking the box” to address hiring and training but Raj believes we must rethink the competency framework and look toward the future demands, roles and responsibilities of the acquisition workforce.

The immediate focus of the FAIR Institute will be to provide input on legislation and to members of the Administration on specific areas in policy. They are writing several White Papers that are a part of this strategy; topics include:

• Creating a broad framework for acquisition transformation;
• Challenges and recommendations surrounding the acquisition workforce;
• Insourcing – what functions and capabilities should be brought in-house or what criteria should be used to determine those functions and capabilities and how to phase that in so as not to jeopardize the ability of government ;
• Competition – ensuring maximum competition in every situation both from the government’s requirement and the industry dynamic;
• Contract types – looking at the FAR and commercial practices.

So what does success look like? In the short term “having an impact on shaping policy and addressing the stated Guiding Principles.” Longer term, they intend to engage the constituencies to create a world class acquisition system and function, aligning thinking and understanding among those constituencies.

The challenges before us in federal acquisition are enormous. However, I don’t think we’ve ever had a better opportunity to make some much needed changes. I wish the FAIR Institute much luck and success for the betterment of our federal acquisition system.

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Interesting development. As with all new initiatives it will be interested to see what they end up focusing on and what kind of traction they get. But the more people working on federal acquisition innovation and reform the better in my book…