A group who shares ideas and experiences employing innovative acquisition practices, collaborative methods and use of Web2.0 technologies to transform federal acquisition.
Is the Contracting Community ready for Gov2.0?
July 2, 2009 at 12:55 am #75077
Today during our ACT/IAC Rockstars of Gov2.0 Innovate Federal Acquisition Panel discussion, a question was asked regarding federal contracting officers’ “readiness” to participate in a Gov2.0 environment – meaning, in this age of collaboration, participation, and transparency, is our contracting community ready to share and openly collaborate? We are living in age of oversight and our acquisition workforce is often the first to be scrutinized. How do we encourage innovation, risk-taking. sharing and collaboration and at the same time protect the people and the integrity of the process?
July 2, 2009 at 1:53 am #75107
Perhaps the responses to this discussion opener may partially answer the question.
As a member of the operational acquisition community, my thought is that vague initiatives such as “being transparent” are wonderful in theory, but the operational reality is different,
Regulations are piled on top of regulations without regard to consistency or ambiguity with each agency compounding the difficuly of following the FAR with its own set of rules, and auditors, without knowledge of the aquisition process, are given free rein. Recal that the point of issuing the FAR back in 1984 was to have a single set of rules.
Did you see the latest FAC, requiring the use of PPIRS to evaluate past performance? a system that according to my folks who use the system, does not work well and provides inaccurate information.
In such an environment, acquisition professionals may hunker down discouraging risk taking. and getting away from the goal of mission support.
I apologize for such a negative note, but we must resolve the contradiction between transparency that seems to be measured in increasing regulations and operational efficiency (within the rules).
As a first step, I suggest that agencies refrain from promulgating new rules that go beyond the FAR.
Let’s get back to a single set of rules and regulations that apply to everyone. That is obviously easier said than done.
July 2, 2009 at 2:58 am #75105
Sometimes the best — and only — approach to organizational change in highly complex and resistant environments is to wall off the old systems and processes and start anew. We’ve see this in charter schools and in some corporations where legacy computers systems are “encapsulated” while more modern — and less expensive — system architectures support the development of newer and more agile systems. Perhaps the same is true of government acquisitions?
July 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm #75103
It really depends on the CO. I think that some of the 1102 community is generally ready to share information and collaborate on ideas and some are not for a variety of reasons.
In addition, I agree with the posting by Felton Jones and have been extremely concerned about the current volume and growth of the acquisition rules and regulations. The FAR alone is now over 2,000 pages long. It is larger than some medical books I’ve seen. Add to that agency regulations and DFARs and you have an almost impossible situation where something somewhere is bound to be missed in a contract by a CO. Thus Contracting Officers and Specialists are spending a large amount of time dealing with many rules and procedures, laws and regulations that govern their world.
In my opinion, the entire culture must change, that is, each new rule or regulation or law should be treated with the highest amount of suspicion before it is added in. Then after that, the new rule should be given a limited amount of time to prove worthy to stay in the book. Further, not only must we stop the madness of rule proliferation but the FAR itself needs to be re-written and slimmed down. Lets make it simple, not complex! Let’s add a rule only when it benefits the larger community of taxpayers rather than smaller groups.
The more rules and procedures that are added, the less innovation there will be. Plus the staggering proliferation of audits, protests, FOIA requests and other actions on files cut heavily into risk taking. Lastly, this kind of heavy regulatory environment makes it much harder for us to attract and keep new folks in federal acquisition.
July 2, 2009 at 3:51 pm #75101
Yesterday’s Acquisition 2.0 panel gave me plenty to ponder. The entire discussion around leadership and the cultural change we are undergoing in regards to communicating/communications left me feeling that some in the acquisition community may be ready to embrace more collaboration, but plenty are not – for plenty of reasons. One suggestion was made that I think might help with the adoption of collaborative methods – that was to gain a series of small successes using social networks, etc. before launching off into larger initiatives. Unfortunately, too many have been punished for accepting too much risk or trying to be innovative in this community that’s filled with second-guessers and oversight activities. Despite opinions to the contrary – “falling on your sword” by thinking out-of-the-box too many times, depending on your particular organization’s culture, can do damage to one’s morale, motivation and possibly one’s career. At some point altruism gives way to reality. All of this sounds pretty harsh and pessimistic, but yesterday I did gain some hope from the thought leaders in the room. I guess one challenge we face is to somehow prove to our leadership, whether it be at an agency, company or wherever, that the benefits outweigh the risks of embracing the collaborative methods, etc. I am not sure we are that point yet, but at least we are discussing this subject in open forums. I’d certainly enjoy hearing other opinions from other community members. Have a great 4th of July folks.
July 2, 2009 at 4:31 pm #75099
Mary: Your questions are too broad. What exactly do you mean when you ask if the contracting community ready to share and openly collaborate? What does that look like to you?
Are you asking if contracting personnel will collaboratively work together with other member of the acquisition community? Or, voluntarily contribute time and effort on future collaborative efforts? And, many other questions can be asked here.
Felton is correct in pointing out that PPIRS has been around a long time now, and its data is still not considered very accurate nor complete. PPIRS is a good example of a collaborative environment not functioning as it was intended. Why has it not been taken seriously all of these years? Answer that question and maybe we can figure out how to incorporate Web 2.0 technology into Government contracting.
While I consider your questions, I think about the program teams that I work with and their lack of understanding of the acquisition process. And I have to think that the ‘question is not’ if we are ready to openly collaborate, but ‘how’ are we going to be asked to collaborate.
What we should be doing is seeking out the best Web 2.0 technologies and methods currently available (asking what is the commercial market doing and what works best), that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the acquisition community, and adopt their uses. First, on a small scale basis, and on a much grander scale.
July 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm #75097
Another example is Lockheed’s old “Skunk Works” where Kelly Johnson and team were able to develop extremely advanced technology very rapidly because they were not only smart but they also controlled everything necessary — including procurement.
July 2, 2009 at 7:57 pm #75095
I agree. It is my experience that an empowered project team can accomplish miracles. However, I doubt that Kelly Johnson had to contend with transparency when developing the U2 and SR71. 🙂
Seriously, looking back to Mary’s original question, “How do we encourage innovation, risk-taking. sharing and collaboration and at the same time protect the people and the integrity of the process?” I think you have proposed the best answer so far and that is to establish and empower mission focused teams that include the CO as a full partner.
July 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm #75093
We MUST ensure compliance and have adequate oversight when billions of dollars are at stake BUT we MUST also encourage innovation. This is really about a cultural shift, one that includes people at all levels including our leadership. If we once again make oversight a part of an agency’s responsibility on the front-end of the process, we can make sure that innovation and risk taking is being combined with risk mitigation and compliance. When compliance and oversight is primarily done after the fact, it only leaves us in a position to find problems when it’s too late. So this might seem counter intuitive, but we must strengthen oversight and compliance on the front-end while encouraging innovative and new thinking. We may then get to a place that allows to accomplish both goals of innovation and compliance. Our goal through the Federal Acquisition Innovation and Reform (FAIR) Institute (http://www.thefairinstitute.org and https://www.govloop.com/group/fairinstitute) is to promote a world-class acquisition system that balances innovation and compliance and allows us to achieve our policy goals is the most efficient manner.
July 4, 2009 at 9:19 pm #75091
Brian – you are correct – the questions are very broad and are intended to get responses and ideas that are broad. The members of this group offer perspectives that demonstrate depth and breadth to many of the questions and suggestions posed. With that said, what prompted this question was a discussion around transparency and collaboration in the acquisition process that would lead to acquisition personnel to share, whether internal to an agency or across government. Sharing of statements of work, acquisition strategies, evaluation plans, etc. During our Rockstars panel discussion, we were asked if contracting officers would be willing to do this given that they are often under a lot scrutiny and could be subject to criticism either from peers or others who might question their approach. So, if you think about the question in more narrow terms, are our acquisition personnel ready for transparency and open collaboration.
July 4, 2009 at 10:25 pm #75089
I am not concerned about appropriately sharing non-proprietary statements of work, acquisition strategies, evaluation plans, etc. In most cases, SOWs are public, but acquisition plans and stategies may be protected and may not be at the COs discretion to share. It depends, but if the information is releasable, sure, let’s share.
I suggest that the more chilling concern is expansion of regulations and the climate of second guessing that has cut away much of the streamlining of the mid to late 1990’s.
COs are becoming overwhelmed with so many well-meaning regulations that it becomes difficult to focus on sound business practices.
Happy Independence Day!
August 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm #75087
Perfect example – NextGov article on GSA’s posting of the Recovery.gov proposal info “Vendors worry posting of contracts will expose proprietary data”
So, there is a great call for transparency and openness on the part of the government, but what happens when it directly impacts you or your company or your agency? Do you feel differently then? Do we agree we should be posting this kind of information and making them available (redacting proprietary info of course) for the world to see? If not, why not? If not, then how do we define transparency and openness? Do we add caveats or exclude certain types of information? That doesn’t seem right. Thoughts?
August 5, 2009 at 2:03 pm #75085
I think public posting of information and documents heretofore unavailable except through FOIA would be a move in the right direction (obviously with the exception of legitimate classified, sensitive and proprietary data). I, for one, would love to see bundling analyses, risk analyses, noncompetitive justifications, etc. that support federal decisions, since these type of documents are the “proof” of whatever decision-making process is used that yields flawed procurements.
August 13, 2009 at 11:08 am #75083
I have always been a big supporter of Web 2.0 / Gov 2.0 merging together to create a better process for everyone. As I have expressed before, two of the hurdles we need to jump is eliminating the fear of those who are not confortable with this “world”. Then you have the many, many people who work in our world, who use knowledge as a weapon and they hold it close to their chest. They are the knowledge hogs, who by the way, irritate me to no ends. These are the people who believe that knowledge is power, and if they are forced to share that knowledge, they have no power. These two type of groups are slowing down the progress for everyone. When using Web / Gov 2.0 technologies, we can remember the same rules apply as in conversation. You don’t talk about prices, vendors, classified information, etc. Of course, members will normally police themselves fairly quickly on these topics. So how do we encourage open collaboration and innovation in acquisition?
Show the ones who are scared of the new products, how this can help them in their day-to-day operations. Slowly show them that the meeetings we have around the conference table is just a small version of what we can do with a VTC, and the VTC is just a step away from a meeting on Live meeting, and Live meeting is just a step away from blogging or websites like GOV LOOP. It may take babysteps to get some people up to speed, but hopefully they will embrace the 2.0 world. As for knowledege hogs. I am still not sure how to get them to cooperate.
(I would write more, but the screen is not working – I may add more later)
August 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm #75081
Amanda – great comment about knowledge hogs. It is a definite issue that must be overcome for collaboration to actually work. Government does not have this particular market cornered. Unfortunately, in many organizations, freely sharing knowledge and experience does not always benefit the sharer. I think it’s a problem that can solved by leadership. If the sharers are made to feel comfortable that sharing their knowledge with others will not result in them being pink-slipped (or their position outsourced) and that they are somehow rewarded for making the organization more efficient, I think you may see more of a willingness to share. The opposite will be true if management (note that I do not use the term leadership) forces the sharing and then the “worth” or perception of individual worth of the sharers is reduced, or they see their roles in the process trivialized. This is a real issue that gets into individual perceptions of job security and orgtanizational value. Thanks for your post.
August 13, 2009 at 4:32 pm #75079
AHHH Good Point. In the case of job security, yes, I guess knowledge is power. I agree with you. There needs to be a system where people can feel comfortable sharing their years of experience. In the job market, there are some ways around that, but the issues you site do need to be worked out. Especially in this job market. The loyalty between an employee and a company is not like it was 50 years ago where a father/ mother could work at a job for their whole life and they felt comfortable they could share their knowledge and still have a job. Those days are long gone.
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