How Would You Fix Procurement?

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This topic contains 22 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Marie Miguel 1 day ago.

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  • #180599

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    A lot of the discussion around healthcare.gov failures have been about the problems with the government procurement system (here,here,here).

    I think there’s a common sense that things aren’t working in procurement as they should.

    But how would you fix them? What’s your #1 suggestion on improving procurement?

    I think there may be a serious attempt at procurement reform out of this – let’s try to put together some of the answers

  • #180635

    Training based on real examples / simulations vs. FAR / theory alone.

  • #180633

    John Janek
    Participant

    Government procurement is an interesting, diabolical thing. You might as well go read HP Lovecraft – his stuff makes more sense. As someone who works in HR pointed out on govloop in a different thread, things are the way they are because of the importance of maintaining fairness and representing all equities appropriately. Where things get skewed is when the regulations become another game of sorts, a way to play by the rules without having to bend to the will of it.

    You can imagine what traditional and professional sports under such auspicies might look like.

    So, perhaps the better question is: how can we provide the right ethical, moral, and legislative training to the right people to empower contracting at all levels in an organization, and communicate that need for stewardship and thoughtful, deliberative participation? How do we create environments that:

    1. Allow multi-discipline interaction and deeper understanding of the necessaries of procurement based on law and practice. SMEs should be the ones working hand-in-hand on a regular and consistent basis to guide a procurement through, and they should make the effort to truly understand the process (from RFI through to RFP and pre and post award meetings). When I’ve had truly successful procurement actions, it was a team effort all the way.

    2. Encourage the right ethical and collaborative environments to ensure that the people stand up for the right action, and there is enough transparency internally to expose material weakness and wrong-doing.

    3. Allow us all to fail safely. Everyone fails, and most of us learn via those failures. Those in Contracting Officers roles are told time and again that a mis-step will put you in jail. That sort of high bar does not promote the tenets and activities that you need for procurement reformation to have a net positive effect. Create more experiential learning, more learning based on communities of practice and peer review, and make the failures small procurements, instead of multi-billion dollar BPAs for website services.

    4. Reach out to big companies and see what they do. Time and again I am amazed at how very large companies (10k+ employees) share many of the same basic tenets as equivalent government agencies. I would be really surprised if they don’t also have fairness doctrine and other core established pieces.

    5. Re-vision the role of the CO and reinvigorate the workforce. These folks are, by and large overworked and underpaid. People simply expect stuff to show up without understanding what goes on behind the scenes (See #1). Part of any serious reform would necessitate transforming the role from “Contracting Officer” to “Contracting Facilitator” – turning the individual with the Warrant from gatekeeper to guide. In today’s government, this is one of the single biggest challenges, I think.

    Now, admittedly when I’ve done CO work it’s been pretty small beans, but those are the pieces that immediately pop up in my mind. Although I appreciate the discussion, I’m not sure that Healthcare.org is any better or worse than some of the DOD procurements that have gone off the rails in recent years (some of which make healthcare.org look like child’s play). Are folks on the hill even associating that part of the healthcare.org failure might in fact be the logical constraints imposed by the contracts? And that’s a slippery slope, because someone may well ask “Why wasn’t there a component for end-to-end testing in the contract?” Beware the spector of more governance. It’s easy to invite in, nearly impossible to get out, and rapidly builds an audience.

  • #180631

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    Great ideas.

    I like #4 in particular Sometimes we compare how government buys to small startups when I think it’s most proper to compare – how does Walmart buy or GE buy or P&G buy? What can we learn from them?

  • #180629

    Jaime Gracia
    Participant

    Although I think that procurement does need to be reviewed, we seem to be missing the real issues of the healthcare.gov failures.

    What happened with healthcare.gov is symptomatic of federal IT, in which feds continue the “big bang” approaches to buying. Until leadership understands this is a fool’s errand, we can expect more healthcare.gov, and subsequent waste of hundreds of millions of dollars with little to show for the investment. Agile, load testing, system engineering, etc. are all buzzwords, as little is being done to effectively bring IT capability and innovation with software development into the federal space.

    These skill sets simply do not exist at the federal level internally, and many qualified companies are shut out because they do not have the access and the marketing muscle like the larger firms (e.g. the normal cast of characters, or the “IT Cartel” Vivek Kundra mentioned).

    We need to realize these problems are not so much about the rules and regulations, but the purposeful inflexibility federal leaders put into federal IT to propagate empire building and jobs programs for themselves, in addition to large companies and their Congressional influencers (lobbyists).

    If capability was desired, we would have real accountability, carefully crafted requirements that are achievable within budgetary and scheduling constraints, and real opportunities for commercial firms and small businesses, in particularly, with innovative solutions to transform the federal IT landscape.

    However, ignorance is bliss, and profitable.

  • #180627

    Dale M. Posthumus
    Participant

    As a services contractor, I will start by saying there are some pretty good acquisition shops out there. NITAAC at NIH comes to minds. But, we must remember procurement is more than the acquisitions office. It is also the program offices. They need to work closely to run an acquisition from its early stages. Program people must also understand the FAR better than they do. There are many things I could address, but one would be to allow flexibility. If every agency had the ability to look to a NITAAC (call it competition among acquisition offices), which would include all offices being able to charge a fee for the service, I think you would see agencies gravitate to the better ones and the others striving to get better to gain the business.

    I would also suggest you not limit your review of private sector procurement to the large companies. Start with the companies who are trying to do business with your agency, whatever the size. You might be surprised what they may have to offer to improve your processes.

    • #269987

      msingleton
      Participant

      Agreed. Integrated Project Teams (IPTs) are critical for large acquisitions such as major IT investments. Acquisitions staff should be included in out year planning for large IT modernization projects, not just before market research, SOW development and RFP’s are ready to go out. Federal personnel (program staff, acquisitions staff, and others) are busy. A good team approach with well thought out/repeatable processes can really help.

  • #180625

    Kristin Anderson
    Participant

    A small start would be fixing up the Wikipedia article: Government procurement in the United States.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_procurement_in_the_United_

    A concerned citizen or civil servant not currently involved in procurement reform needs a basic overview of the current situation to figure things out.

    Basic information for beginners would be something along these lines: USG purchasing in 2013 was estimated at roughly this level. The laws governing this process are … ; the principles in these laws are … ; major differences between public sector and private sector purchasing are … ; the people and organizations who conduct procurement activities are called … ; the typical steps in the procurement process are … ; plus a few paragraphs giving examples about how procurement works in different agencies. For more information, see the article “Request for proposal,” etc…. ; This information is taken from the following sources … ; see these helpful links and overviews for futher information.

    Happy to assist anyone willing to attempt this rewrite, if you e-mail me. (I know very little about procurement, but do know about editing Wikipedia.)

  • #180623

    Sherry Taylor
    Participant

    Good morning,

    I just wanted to point out that when you refer to “government” procurement you are referring to the feds. There are more and more members that do not work for the federal government.

    I work for a local government and our procurement system isn’t perfect, but I would not describe it as broken. We do have our challenges but we have really worked hard to stay abreast of best practices and innovations, where allowed. We do training for our departments all of the time, both in-person, e-training, and mixed. In our trainings and in our affiliation with the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, we constantly emphasize ethics.

    Having said that we are always looking for efficiencies. One of the things we do is try to get involved at the planning stage. It’s at the planning stage that you have the most options available. We try to make ourselves available to our (internal) customers and to go out to their location frequently. We make strides to develop a collaborative relationship.

    I know that our rules (governed by state acquisition and contracting laws) are different. I appreciate the thread and the chance to reply.

    Regards,

    Sherry Taylor

  • #180621

    Dustin L. Allison
    Participant

    Just ask yourselves how many GS-15’s it takes to issue and manage an IT contract…for a product that is almost always sub-par, duplicative, clunky, and, above-all, EXPENSIVE….

    Simply put, we need radical contracting reform that is focused on accountabily, trust, and mission accomplishment. Byzantine rules cannot be the answer! The spector of fairness and corruption when tax payer money is involved leads to an incredibly complex contracting system that leads to centralizing contracing functions within agencies, which, in turn, leads to over-burdened bueracratic contracting shops that care more about the rules they follow than they do about the programs they are supposedly supporting. This is a vicious cycle that essentially makes programmatic excellence impossible. Congress, OMB, and policy wonks everywhere, please take note…

    Congress has to understand that it must craft rules that encourage trust AND accountability between all parties (Congress, Agencies, and Contractors)…There is no other way for a government program to peform well no matter how worthy the policy end…especially when we try to accomplish policy goals through the contracting process itself…

    So…this means Congress has to trust government leaders by crafting broad and simple rules (as in, thou shalt not commit corruption), while requiring complete transparency and accountability on how money and resources were eventually deployed and the performance that resulted.

  • #180619

    Dale M. Posthumus
    Participant

    You are quite right to remind us there are more “governments” on GovLoop than the US Federal. At the same time, many of these issues apply to state governments as well. I have worked with a few state procurement systems, one in particular. I will say I think the states are doing a better job, probably because of less bureaucracy, for one. Your example of procurement folks getting started early with the program people is an excellent example of how to improve acquisition. Procurement and program people need to better understand each other and how they must work according to the framework/restrictions of regulations and law. The value of GovLoop is, not only are there US fed, state, and local members, there are also members from other countries. I am always fascinated to hear how someone else is doing IT, acquisition, open govt, better services, etc.

  • #180617

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    100% – beauty of GL is breadth of government sharing ideas.

    I’m curious at the state level – what do you see working? Where do you see problems?

  • #180615

    Daniel Crystal
    Participant

    I had a senior PM once tell me that a good contracting officer will tell you what you can get away with rather than what you can’t do. Kind of like a good lawyer.

  • #180613

    Marian Henderson
    Participant

    I’m not involved in procurement, so can someone please explain how the signs closing our national parks were able to be procured on the first day of the shutdown?

  • #180611

    Philip V.
    Participant

    On a macro level, we should look at:

    1. Diminishing returns on the complexity of contracting regulations and their efficacy. Could government transparency and access to information reduce the need for increasingly complex regulations?

    2. Leveraging private sector procurement, forecasting, and rollout solutions/methodologies. John mentioned this below and I think it is an excellent point.

    3. Recruiting and securing a talented workforce equipped with the appropriate technology and training.

  • #180609

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Advising people what they can get away with rather what they should avoid has ended many careers as well as filled many federal and state facilities. Ask the advisor or lawyer to put thier signature on the authorizing documents and see if their advice remains the same.

  • #180607

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster
    • #257287

      john angle
      Participant

      So much to reform – so little time….

  • #180605

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    I think would be interesting as part of reform to look back at ideas from Better Buy Project. The previous ideas looks like to be down but blogs on topic are here – http://betterbuyproject.org/blog/2009/12/moving-the-better-buy-project-forward-an-exercise-in-change.html

    I think to improve we might actually have a lot of items in place just need to modernize/streamline and promote them and use them more.

    For example, there are lots of programs to help small businesses that would probably interest newer tech firms that might be able to provide solutions if they were a little easier to register and less byzantine.

    Or there’s a lot of efficiency gains we could get if gov’t bought more from GSA as schedules already in place and centralized place for folks to get on schedules. However, still lots of procurements don’t use GSA for various reasons (culture to potentially bad experiences in past w/ GSA)

  • #180603

    Peter G. Tuttle
    Participant

    Jaime hits the nail on the head. Let me add a couple of additional thoughts to his articulation.

    The “real” problem is not the regulations that form a framework for the Federal purchasing process, but how they are, or are not, interpreted and implemented by some of our Federal friends. There is plenty of flexibility allowed (look at FAR1.102-4 “Role of the Acquisition Team”) and then ask why many acquisition professionals do not appear to capitalize on this wide degree of authority. There are many valid (and some invalid) reasons for reluctance to be risk tolerant, innovative and forward-looking.

    The one suggestion I have to help the procurement process is for Agency leadership (at all levels) to allow good business judgment to be exercised on the part of its Contracting professionals. This is much harder to do than to say, since it involves the concept of risk tolerance, trust, training on business acumen (rather than structure & compliance), and perhaps the release of decision-control to the levels which should actually have the authority to make those decisions in the first place.

    At the recent ACT-IAC ELC, Steve VanRoekel/USA CIO, indicated in one address that monolithic failure cannot be the norm in government. Personally, I agree, as do we all. Creative business thinking and common-sense will be needed across the board to turn his words into reality.

    All this being said, there are legions of our fellow Federal practitioners who daily practice the art of procurement successfully using the current legal and regulatory framework. They should be encouraged and congratulated. They could probably use some more enlightened leadership and mentoring to do an even better job of serving the public good.

    Cheers and have a great day.

  • #180601

    Julie Chase
    Participant

    Call Jeff Bezos. Has Amazon.com ever crashed on Black Friday? Have “ONE” purchasing website for all of gov….like GSA Advantage. Have GSA Advantage take over the installation ServMarts….with the agreement that employees will be from a registered contractor who employs persons with disabilities. Get rid of DoDemall and all the other piddly gov procurement websites. If a small business wants to join GSA Advantage. ..they are supposed to follow the TAA rules. If I can’t buy something from China on my GSA govcc…neither should the contractor….big or small….AND IT…software…hardware whatever….include it as well. It will help bring jobs back to this country.

  • #270964

    Marie Miguel
    Participant

    Government procurement is an interesting subject but it’s hard to resolve. There must be a budget in every government agencies and priorities. People are get to involve and speak out.

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