HHS works to expand its industrial base

Gettyimages.com/ David Crespo

The acquisition workforce and new operating groups are key focus items for the Health and Human Services Department.

The Health and Human Services Department is encountering significant challenges in building up the capacity and skills it needs.

One step the department has taken is increasing efforts build its industrial base, said Katrina Brisbon, deputy assistant secretary for acquisitions at HHS.

"We have to expand the industrial base."
--Katrina Brisbon, deputy assistant secretary
for acquisition at HHS.

Speaking at the ACT-IAC Imagine Nation conference, Brisbon said she is working to build a workforce that understands both federal acquisition regulations and the needs of industry.

“We have to expand the industrial base,” she said.

Brisbon added acquisition workforce has to understand market intelligence, the structure of different industry groups, and the behaviors and movements within those groups.

Imagine Nation is an annual gathering of industry and government officials to discuss current challenges in the public sector, plus ways for them to collaborate.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings in the breadth of the industrial base, but COVID has been just won of the challenges HHS is facing.

Supporting unaccompanied minors had been primarily funded through grants as one example, but that has now shifted to contracts.

“The issue is that there isn’t an adequate industrial base,” she said.

HHS often has to rely on sole-source contracts as a result, Brisbon said.

The department has made some structural changes designed to help.

In the aftermath of COVID, the department elevated the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to an operating division now known as the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.

That administration is now on par with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration.

ASPR has responsibility for initiatives such as the National Biodefense Strategy and Strategic National Stockpile. That is to ensure HHS is ready to respond to future pandemics and other disasters.

“They are digging into the industrial base expansion for critical product needs across the U.S., such as PPE (personal protective equipment) and other therapeutics and pharmaceuticals,” Brisbon said.

HHS has also created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health known as APRA-H, which focuses on biomedical research in areas where the industrial base needs to grow.

“We are looking for industry to work with us on these very hard challenges,” Brisbon said. “And we are looking to expand who we do business with.”