Buy Lines: Make procurement officials part of business-case team

Bob Dickson

While more than 1,200 government employees recently attended Office of Management and Budget workshops on preparing business cases, less than 1 percent were from acquisition or procurement offices.

Juxtaposing the fact that OMB returned as inadequate more than 700 business cases to agencies during the budget pass-back, it seems an obvious conclusion that developing a good business case takes a team. And, from my perspective, that team should include acquisition personnel who have learned what it means to be their agency's business managers.

From the perspective of strategic planning and performance-based budgeting and acquisition, members of the acquisition and procurement community must be more involved, and they must participate earlier in the capital planning process. The business case, also referred to as Exhibit 300 or, more formally, the Capital Asset Plan and Business Case, provides justification for investment in capital assets.

Following procedures prescribed in OMB Circular A-11, the cases are submitted to OMB with the agency's initial budget submission, due annually in September.

Among other requirements, business cases must address acquisition strategy, performance measurement, analysis of alternatives and risk factors and the composition of the integrated project team, or acquisition team. Related estimates of schedule, cost and performance improvement call for input from acquisition professionals as well.

As we move closer to OMB's mandate for 50 percent of acquisitions to be performance based by 2005, the link to effective business case planning becomes more apparent. Exhibit 300 compels agency officials to focus on the desired outcomes or results needed to reach the agency mission, and to think in terms of objectives. This focus is at the core of a performance-based acquisition approach.

Involving acquisition officials early in defining the business case garners another benefit. With a deeper understanding of the mission goals and objectives the acquisition seeks to achieve, the business manager can craft an acquisition that develops and incorporates appropriate metrics and incentives in contractual documents.

This establishes a basis for contract performance, as well as measurable outcomes that are required to support an agency's business case for follow-on or future programs.

OMB has established a process of evaluating business cases which involves detailed scoring criteria that include the following:

  • Support for the President's Management Agenda, including collaboration among multiple agencies and use of e-business technologies, which often involve related acquisition issues;

  • Acquisition strategy, including performance-based statements of work and contracts, identification and mitigation of risk, as well as accommodation of Section 508 accessibility requirements.

  • Performance goals and measures demonstrating a clear linkage between the agency's mission and strategic goals, its performance plan, as well as the proposed goals and measures for the project at hand.

Without active and positive involvement from acquisition leaders and managers in developing their cases, it's difficult to envision a high agency score. More importantly, a vital program deserving of funding and OMB support could end up on the cutting room floor.

In my view, agencies would be ill advised to address these critical areas without the full involvement, advice and counsel of expert acquisition professionals.

Just as agency leadership must insure the early and substantial involvement of acquisition leaders in the capital planning process, those in key acquisition roles must take the initiative to fulfill this mission-critical role. At a time when resource constraints and daily "crises" can become all consuming, it is critical that acquisition professionals focus on the long view and "join the team." *

Bob Dickson is vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., Chantilly, Va. His e-mail address is bdickson@acqsolinc.com.

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