Thought No. 11: Requirements Development—the Blocking and Tackling of Federal Procurement

This week marks the beginning of the local football season with high schools and youth leagues beginning camps and tryouts—and YES, the Green Bay Packers are “in camp” too! As such it is appropriate to focus on Thought No. 11 of the Thirteen Thoughts for 2013: Requirements Development—the blocking and tackling of federal procurement. Just as blocking and tackling are the foundation for winning football, requirements development is the foundation for best value procurement outcomes. Focusing on requirements development can achieve significant savings and performance improvement for the federal government. As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated in its guide on developing Operational Requirements Documents:

Research conclusively shows that the foremost reason why programs or projects do not succeed is due to the lack of detailed requirements at the initiation of a program or project. Efforts invested up front to develop a clear understanding of the requirements pays dividends in the positive outcome of programs—not to mention the savings in both time and money in corrective actions taken to get a program back on track (if it is even possible!).

See page 6 of “Developing Operational Requirements: A Guide to the Cost-Effective and Efficient Communication of Needs”, Version 2.0, November 2008, Department of Homeland Security. []

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s (OFPP’s) Myth-Busters campaign grew out of a concern that, in particular, during the requirements development phase, the lack of communication between government and industry was increasing the risk of successful procurement outcomes across the federal enterprise. The February 2, 2011 OFPP Myth-Busters memo states in the first paragraph, “[a]ccess to current market information is critical for agency program managers as they define requirements and for contracting officers as they develop acquisition strategies, seek opportunities for small business, and negotiate contract terms.” OFPP is to be credited with recognizing the need to improve communication around requirements development and acting on that need.

The DHS statement regarding requirements development is a fundamental procurement truth regardless of whether the procurement involves a complex weapons system or the strategic sourcing of commercial products and/or services. The key to increasing competition and achieving savings is the clear, concise and consistent communication of requirements. That is why the current federal strategic sourcing initiative (FSSI) strategy should be reexamined. The current use of government-wide Blanket Purchase Agreements fails to take advantage of agency specific requirements. Simply put, GSA is not the holder of customer agency mission requirements. Customer agencies control, understand, and manage their budget profile, ordering and volume patterns, functional requirements, and delivery parameters. The current use of generic, government-wide strategic sourcing BPAs limits the ability of customer agencies to strategically tailor their requirements based on their budget profiles, ordering and delivery patterns and volume commitments. These generic, government-wide FSSI BPAs represent vertical contract duplication, limit competition, negatively impact small business and threaten the long term commercial supplier base.

A strategic sourcing approach that focuses on establishing agency specific BPAs under GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program would achieve significant savings across the federal enterprise while maintaining competition, providing greater opportunities for small business and ensuring a robust long term commercial supply chain. The Coalition’s BPA Best Practices provides a blueprint for the effective use of BPAs by customer agencies to achieve savings.

GSA has a vital role to play in strategic sourcing. The MAS value proposition is powerful: customer agencies can quickly, efficiently and effectively achieve best market pricing through competition for specific requirements at the task/delivery order level. Customer agencies should be empowered to establish MAS BPAs and/or orders based on their specific requirements and not forced to use generic, government-wide BPAs. Leave the blocking and tackling to customer agencies, with GSA focusing on improving the playing field of MAS contracts.

Roger Waldron


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