Acquisition support still a good market for contractor

There's no resolution in sight for the shrinking talent pool of federal employees who have the expertise and knowledge to handle the ever-increasing number of government procurements.

Approximately 21,200 federal contracting officers processed $208.3 billion in contract spending in 2000. By 2007, procurements had more than doubled to $457 billion, but the number of government officials handling them had increased to only about 27,000.

Those figures, cited in a recent issue of a Professional Services Council’s publication, illustrate the problem for government and industry: There's no resolution in sight for the shrinking pool of federal employees with the expertise and knowledge to handle the ever-increasing number of government procurements.

Acquisition Solutions Inc. is determined to correct that imbalance.

“There is a good deal of misinformation about the procurement process within the federal contracting community,” said Jeremy Grant, vice president of Acquisition Solutions, which advises agencies on how to improve acquisition functions and better execute contracts.

The company sees this growing disparity as a growth opportunity, he said.

In a step to deal with that problem and expand its offerings, Acquisition Solutions purchased in January most of the assets of ICOR Partners LLC, a firm that provides strategy, transformation and business improvement consulting to government organizations.

Announcing the acquisition, Acquisition Solutions President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Reed said ICOR Partners would broaden her company's footprint in the civilian government market because “ICOR perfectly complements our expertise in acquisition, program management and knowledge management.”

ICOR’s management solutions also will broaden Acquisition Solutions' ability to assist clients with their procurement needs, she added.

Acquisition Solutions had been actively looking for the right partnership since about 2008, when the Arlington, Va., company was acquired by Excellere Partners, a private equity firm in Denver.

“That was part of our strategy, a buy/build strategy,” Reed said. “They are the primary shareholder in the enterprise.”

One of the first areas that the expanded company will target is government health care programs because of ICOR’s expertise in that field.

“There is some real opportunity for us in that space,” Reed said, citing clients such as the Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services departments and the Defense Department’s Tricare military health system.

In mid-2009, Acquisition Solutions unveiled Virtual Acquisition Office, or VAO 2.0, an online resource for government acquisition news, research, insight and tools.

The subscription-based service provides updated daily information on acquisitions, research and support. It also enables Web-based collaboration among 5,000 government acquisitions managers at nearly 100 federal organizations.

For example, a government procurement officer can learn when it’s appropriate to use a fixed-price, labor-hour contract rather than a time-and-materials contract, he said.

Agency subscribers also can receive topical information from Acquisition Solutions' experts, many of whom are former government officials, Grant said.

In addition, VAO 2.0 includes Applied Learning Online, an online instructional tool of individual modules designed for professionals in federal acquisition, government contracting and program or project management.

Plans call for expanding the tutorial system this year with an additional 45 self-instructional modules.

“The format allows all professionals — experienced or novice — to access relevant topics as needed and to move through the learning experience at a pace that is comfortable and appropriate,” Steve Gluckman, Acquisition Solutions' vice president of knowledge and learning products, said when unveiling the program at a gathering of government contracting professionals.

The company also aggregates acquisition news from the media and has reporters to cover relevant Capitol Hill proceedings. The collected information is disseminated in subscriber newsletters and posted on the company's Web site.

The Homeland Security Department has a contract for the service, which it provides to the Transportation Security Administration and other DHS components, said Sarah Horowitz, of TSA's Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, in an e-mail message.

“The Virtual Acquisition Online subscription service is one of the resources available to TSA’s acquisition professionals to research acquisition issues, to include samples, templates and other acquisition news,” she wrote.

“One of the areas we really do a lot of work now is bridging the gap between the program office and the procurement office,” Grant said. “A lot of times, you’ve got folks that are just not on the same page. They have different jargon.”

When Acquisition Solutions determines how to make a specific procurement process more efficient or effective, “we make sure we can apply that again and again no matter what the problem is that we’re solving," he said. "Then we give a lot of training to our employees to make sure they understand it.”

As a private entity, Acquisition Solutions does not release its financial results, but Grant said company revenues reached the mid $40 million range in fiscal 2009, which he called a busy year for acquisition reform. He cited the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, which became law in May 2009.

“There are some provisions in [that law] that are really going to set up some pretty tight restrictions on organizational conflicts of interest and what defense contractors are going to be able to do in terms of being involved both in the requirements determination of a project as well as being able to bid their project,” he said.

Although Acquisition Solutions’ competition comes mainly from larger consulting firms, such as Booz Allen Hamilton or Deloitte, Grant said he remains bullish because the recession of 2008-09 hasn't had much effect on the company.

“The Beltway is continuing to grow, and as more dollars flow through government contracts, our services have remained in pretty high demand,” he said.

Reed echoed that optimism for 2010, largely because of the ICOR acquisition. “I think we’re off to a great start,” she said.

Some industry experts have suggested that Acquisition Solutions could further increase its revenues by also selling services to the contracting community, which they say would benefit from a better understanding of the federal procurement process.

But Grant rejects those suggestions.

“We don’t do that because when we go to see a government customer, we want them to know that the government is our only customer,” he said.

“The government really wants us to be a trusted adviser and doesn’t want to worry where our loyalties lie,” he added. “We leave a lot of business on the table with that setup.”

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