A group who shares ideas and experiences employing innovative acquisition practices, collaborative methods and use of Web2.0 technologies to transform federal acquisition.
Bridging the Gap Between Those That Have the Solutions and the Government Contracting Process
July 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm #76598
Fantastic post by Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs on their lessons learned from attempting to bid on the Recovery.gov project. Shows us that we are at times “in our own world” and we need to expand our world to others who might have solutions but can’t quite reach us.
DoD’s DefenseSolutions.gov is one way government is attempting to address this problem. Do you have other ideas or examples?
July 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm #76614
I suspect that the FAR will one day soon be seen as an anachronism that no longer serves the purpose. I was around at the inception of the FAR in 1984 and provided briefings on transition from the ASPR. The FAR was supposed to have simplified buying things for the Government by eliminating the multitude of redundant and conflicting agency regulations. Soon thereafter, the service and agency “supplements” began, followed by years of legislative manipulation of social and economic imperatives on the back of the procurement pack mule. The mule will eventually fall of its own loaded-down weight. We have seen some signs of faltering (contingency contracting). The antiquated stylistics of the FAR language, the persistence of a “goods” mindset even after services have eclipsed goods on the buyer’s desk, and the piecemeal approach to maintaining these regs – all are a Dickensian nightmare that will eventually lead to a need for completely rebaselining the concept. . . . but that’s just the opinion of this 30-year veteran in the trade.
July 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm #76612
In my humble opinion you speak the plain and unvarnished truth. My fear is the people do not want to hear it and the effort, metaphorically speaking, is like pouring a glass of water into that beautiful river weknow as the Potomac with the intention of changing the tide – oh well, just call me cynical. Dick, having said that you have my deep respect for putting the truth out their. I do not believe the body of regulation that was created and the subsequent add-ons are fixable.
July 27, 2009 at 6:56 pm #76610
Kim Patrick KobzaParticipant
Clay’s blog post is worth reading. It would be interesting to have an ongoing constructive electronic dialogue designed to enable small companies in decentralized business models to provide input and to have exchanges on acquisition business processes. They would address not just existing programs, but possible future programs.
July 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm #76608
An important question is whether we want Government to be able to directly secure access to innovative approaches, or whether it makes more sense for those offering innovative solutions — but with little Federal expertise — to work with primes that already “know the ropes.”
There are cost and performance advantages — and disadvantages — to both approaches. I lean on the side of believing that the fewer hoops you have to jump through to bring an innovative solution to the attention of the person establishing the requirements, the less costly and more effective the process will be.
Making it inevitable that creative or small organizations have to work through a layer of primes to do business with the government seems to me to be adding more expense and delay to the process. Do programs for promoting small business involvement in government procurement help to cut through the delays and expense?
July 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm #76606
Peter G. TuttleParticipant
Clay’s post was great. I read it and re-read it. It brought me back to those in-house discussions many of us in industry have about what went wrong and what we needed to do to be ready for the next one. I like the idea of forums for direct exchange of ideas between government and industry. In my opinion this might be easier prior to the formal generation of a specific requirement, because after that point industry will want an edge to be able to compete successfully to meet that requirement. After all folks, this is a capitalist-based system.
Please don’t spend time answering these next questions. These are simply thoughts running through my head as I type this. What do agencies do now (beyond RFI’s) to reach out into the technology base? Do we still use Broad Agency Announcements to any degree to get to those forward thinkers out in industry? Who looks at overall tech trends that may one day benefit the overall federal government enterprise – anybody? How effective are SBIR and STTR – really? Is the government so fragmented that it can’t (as one entity) reach out to innovative contractors for solutions that would benefit all agencies? Maybe now is the right time for upsetting the bureaucratic apple cart and revitalizing the entire process of reaching out to industry for early-on intellectual and leading edge technology conversations.
I really think that something like DefenseSolutions.gov is a great idea whose time has come. Maybe we should have a FederalSolutions.gov for the rest of the non-DoD parts of government. Admittedly, it would take time & effort to identify common areas of government-wide interest and weed through industry responses, but ultimately it may create great efficiency and cost savings.
Sorry for the stream of consciousness here, but I’d be interested in opinions from the rest of our community.
July 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm #76604
Since the FAR is a tool of Congress to legislate social and economic policy, Industry will always be frustrated.
July 28, 2009 at 5:40 pm #76602
What a brilliant post that sheds light on the government contracting process and how contracts are awarded. As my profession is to be an expert in this process and help guide my government customers through it, it is interesting to get perspective from others on the outside looking in. Several things jumped out at me from Clay’s post:
1) He is being pragmatic about the contracting process. He admits that he submitted a bid not having any idea what he was doing more or less, and lost out to firms that have marketed themselves and done all the upfront business development and relationship building. Of course the bid was competitive, but the government is a buyer like anyone else, and wants to know that the firms they do business with will perform, lower risk, and perform. Understanding that collaboration will help small businesses in the end will go a long way to not only help small businesses, but the government and ultimately the taxpayer though firms that have educated themselves on the process and have provided best value to the Government.
2) His firm was not qualified to do the work, but submitted the bid anyway and believes that their solution has given their company a foot in the door through awareness and branding. Although that may be the case, the opposite may also be true. I have reviewed many proposals in the past in various engagements from firms that do not answer the requirements and who clearly do not know what they are doing. If they were the Government, would they pick their firm? This often leads to resentment for wasting time and resources. If they had a unique, innovative solution for data management and knowledge exchange through open collaboration platforms, they should have gone another route and not wasted the Government’s time. They perhaps could have submitted an unsolicited bid through proper channels, or found a better way to partner or join a team interested in advancing the idea. I get emails everyday from people asking me for advice on whom to market their unique service that no one else has and will save the Government millions, etc. My response is always the same; prove it. I rarely hear back.
3) The good news certainly is that they have a better idea of the process. Furthermore, they understand that in this situation for this Recovery.gov website, it has turned into a “careful what you wish for” scenario, as both the winning contractor (Smartronix, Inc.) and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) have come under enormous scrutiny for the contract and the way it was awarded. I do not see how it will be possible to fulfill these requirements in the schedule and budgetary parameters set forth in the contract. My understanding is that the RATB fell into the perfect formula of setting things up for failure: poorly defined requirements, unrealistic schedules and budgets, and the coup de grâce, enormous political pressure. Not a recipe for success. I hope the IG and GAO are sharpening their pencils.
Learning how to fail is one thing, but learning from the failures defines success. I hope that Clay and Sunlight Labs understand the next time that the Government is a very sophisticated buyer, albeit not the most efficient one. Nonetheless, transparency can only help shed light on the process, and I for one cannot but help be see positive outcomes coming from this exercise.
July 29, 2009 at 5:32 pm #76600
Poor sunlight. Welcome to our world! If not the FAR what. I asked Scott Charbo one time at a conference what was the one thing he would do to improve acquisitons. His answer was, “eliminate the FAR”. The challenge with that is it would still have to be replaced by something. What? ANd if replaced we would start with some new “language” to be understood. I agree with Chuck V. the simpler the better.
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