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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Death to the telegram and other procurement reform efforts

Breaking news: the government doesn’t want you to use telegrams to submit your proposals any longer. Faxes are frowned on too.

Whew, that’s a relief. I’m sure that incessant tap-tap-tappy has got to be driving folks crazy.

The banishment of the telegraph is a hidden gem inside the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s Dec. 4 memo on simplifying the federal procurement process.

I can’t help but poke a little fun at that tidbit, but otherwise there is a lot to like in the memo.

There are three primary initiatives in the memo written by Anne Rung, OFPP administrator:

  • Buying through category management, AKA strategic sourcing
  • Better talent management and development
  • Better vendor relationships

Under each of the categories, there several steps OFPP says the government must take, and, of course, the government has already been making some moves in each of these areas.

For example, under the category management area, the Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council has been at work since 2010, and OFPP is claiming savings of $417 million through strategic sourcing efforts and the reduction of contract duplication.

Look for more to be done in this area. “A significant amount of contract duplication remains,” Rung wrote.

Beyond strategic sourcing, the government wants more development of common standards and an increase in the use of best practices. It also wants the process to be more transparent in areas such as acquisition performance.

Data analytics will be important, and the government is collecting more information on pricing by asking agencies to submit what they actually paid for goods and services, not just the prices listed on the GSA schedule.

The collection of pricing information is often an uncomfortable topic for industry because it raises fears about the release of proprietary information as well as concerns that the government won’t understand the nuances of pricing.

But if the government uses the information wisely and not just as a hammer to beat contractors with, then it could be a powerful tool for making buying more efficient and cost-effective.

The section of the memo on building stronger vendor relationships was of particular interest to me because we’ve all heard the complaints about a lack of communication. Our Insider Reports on purchasing trends also highlighted that government buyers feel restricted on how and when they can talk to industry. Many of the restrictions are imaginary and aren’t based in procurement regulations.

I had one executive recently tell me that a customer had shut down communication because they were thinking about a new contract. There wasn’t even a request for information out on the street.

Anything that improves communication is a good thing, and Rung put it front and center in her memo. “Early, frequent and constructive engagement with industry leads to better outcomes,” she wrote.

Amen to that.

She rightly points out some progress that the government has made. GSA has made registration easier and improved online tools for finding opportunities. She praised the Chief Acquisition Officers Council’s open dialogue initiative with industry.

Rung said there will be more of these, at least one open dialogue event a year for the next two years. One a year seems a little slim to me, but it might be enough. I don’t know.

It’s in the section on improving vendor relationships that Rung drops the bombshell that submitting proposals via telegram will not be allowed. It’s part of an effort to remove outdated regulations from the FAR. There is a 180-day deadline, and hopefully they’ll make it.

While there is very little I can disagree with in the memo, my concern is how these recommendations and guidance will get pushed down into the buying organizations across the government.

A wide gap remains between senior procurement officials and the rank-and-file. Will there be incentives for contracting officers and others in the procurement process to change from their traditional, comfortable ways of doing things?

Can a memo override the seemingly ingrained risk-adverse nature of government procurement?

One memo can’t, and Rung makes it clear that this is a process: it is evolution and not revolution.

But I might suggest printing a copy of the memo and highlighting the pertinent sections. Carry the copy with you and whip it out when a customer says they can’t talk or can’t take a meeting.

Contractors just might be the best conduit for carrying Rung’s message to the field.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 08, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Reader Comments

Tue, Dec 9, 2014 Amy Fadida United States

This is a very good article, Nick. Thank you. I agree that once a year seems a bit on the anemic side, and hope that this exchange will increase in frequency, but more importantly, I hope it will be driven down into the organization. There is a real dichotomy between risk-averse contracting officers and the push for agility and innovation promoted through initiatives like US Digital Services Playbook and the TechFar Handbook. It is incumbent upon all of us in the community to work toward a more collaborative, innovative and less risk-averse environment. Thanks again for your excellent reporting.

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