A handful of agencies are taking steps to improve coordination between program managers, contracting officers and contractors in hopes of delivering less wasteful, more effective IT acquisitions.
The Energy Department, for example, is using a series of agency-wide meetings to share ideas on what’s being bought and what contracts are used in certain information technology arenas, such as mobility, open government and geospatial, Pete Tseronis, the department’s chief technology officer, said at the Acquisition Excellence conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Companies can attend the events and network with the agency’s program managers and contracting officers, Tseronis said. But he has heard from contractors who are later bounced between the program office and the contracting officer when they try to get information about upcoming contracts or market their technologies to the agency, he said.
“Government has to fix something about dialogue,” he said. “Otherwise, why do these events?”
Acquisition officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement are trying to improve communication between program managers and contracting officers so they can come up with better statements of work on a contract, said Brent Bushey, an ICE IT program manager. Pressures to award contracts quickly have driven acquisition officers to speed through those early discussions, he said.
“You say you want to go fast, but you have no idea what you’re trying to buy or how to articulate that,” Bushey said.
Government and contractor panelists at the conference, which was hosted by the General Services Administration and American Council for Technology’s Industry Advisory Council, agreed that companies can offer helpful insight to agencies about how best to structure program requirements. But contracting officers are afraid that meeting with a contractor about an upcoming procurement will look bad and give competing companies reason to protest their decisions, officials said.
That fear is a focus of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s campaign last year to encourage contracting officers to communicate with industry, called Mythbusters. Better communication should lead to fewer protests, not more, federal procurement officials said.
About a month ago, OFPP added a “vendor collaboration” link to the Federal Business Opportunities website where agencies post contract notices. The new link directs contractors to pre-solicitiation opportunities, such as requests for information and agency industry days.
OFPP is also planning a follow-up to the Mythbusters campaign that will focus more on issues faced by the contractor community, OFPP acting administrator Lesley Field said during the conference.
Readers, how would you describe communication between federal program and contracting offices? What about between the government and industry? Where are the hangups?