Pricing roulette: Challenges vary agency to agency

Government agencies are trying various ways to break new ground in procurement, but the results and approaches can vary widely from one agency to the next.

Earlier this month, a group of colleagues and I had the pleasure of participating in the Partnership for Public Service’s annual “Shark Tank” exercise for their acquisition leadership program. In this exercise, the program participants present ideas (products) they think will enhance, modernize and otherwise improve acquisition. And as “sharks,” we question them, evaluate their ideas and give advice.

As usual, the “students” (virtually all of whom are mid-career acquisition professionals) impressed us with their awareness of the gaps and challenges that beset the acquisition ecosystem.

In fact, while not planned, all of the presentations we heard had a common theme: They currently lack many of the tools, from education to data, and from business insight to strategic guidance and leadership they think they need to do their jobs as well as they can, particularly in the dynamic marketplaces in which they must operate.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Those same themes figured prominently into almost every survey of the acquisition community conducted by the Professional Services Council; and are also themes that, in one way or another, routinely appear in workforce surveys conducted by other independent organizations, including the Partnership itself.

It is against the combined backdrops of the market of today and the toolsets and guidance the workforce itself feels are lacking, that three recent events are worth noting.

First, there are signs, especially in the Navy, that the backlash against contracting practices that drive rates to absurdly low levels is finally beginning to grow. As one example, SPAWAR is beginning to establish a floor for rates in competitions, to help prevent the limbo rock (“how low can you go” ) that has so distorted the system in recent years.  And Navy acquisition executive Sean Stackley even ruminated recently about whether the Navy should create “reverse tripwires” to achieve the same goal (which would be a terrific idea).

On the other hand, despite virtually unanimous input from industry, an Office of the Secretary of Defense review, and, most importantly, shear logic, the Defense Information Systems Agency is refusing to budge from its original, highly questionable low price/technically acceptable strategy for Encore III—even though this is a ten year contract with broad, unknown requirements.

Oh, and DISA also plans to dictate to contractors the labor mix they are to use on individual task orders.

And then there was news this week that the Air Force will be using IBM’s Watson in its acquisitions. That could be exciting news. After all, used wisely, cognitive computing can have a transformative effect on decision-making and outcomes.  It can collect and synthesize almost unlimited data, from contracts to pricing, market research, technology and more, to advance and enhance the outcomes.

As the Washington Post  reported on March 21, Watson is already being utilized by major hospital systems to, among other things, aid in the development of treatment plans for individual cancer cases. And in many ways, cognitive computing speaks to core elements of the defense department’s “Third Offset Strategy.” So why not use it for complex acquisition challenges?

Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether the Air Force has established a vision for its use of Watson that reflects the real power of cognitive computing. According to the Washington Post, the primary objective seems to be to use Watson to help decipher the laws, rules and compliance regimes, including the Federal Acquisition Regulation, that dominate federal contracting.

And, as a second goal, to help provide companies with information on how to be compliant with those rules and regimes. In fact, the example cited by the Air Force was using Watson to tell a contracting officer if he or she can do a sole source award for a certain product or service.

Let’s think about this from the perspective of federal acquisition professionals and the world we ask them to function in; a world in which some think the rules and policies are so complex that we need cognitive computing to decipher them.

While I happen to disagree with the premise, the question must also be asked as to whether the advent of Watson, in this narrow circumstance, will actually take our attention away from the real, core problems we face.

Which brings me back to the “Shark Tank.”

The thirty or so professionals who presented to my group were all bright, committed and clearly seeking a smarter way forward. And their proposals, unwittingly, reflected those core problems.

They are not looking for more interpretations of rules nor do they want to be pressured to follow rigid processes. Rather, they seek meaningful information, data and guidance that would actually enable them to exercise their professional and critical thinking skills; to make more thoughtful judgments and decisions.

In short, they identified many of the most problematic dynamics that have come to dominate federal acquisition. We should applaud and support them. Instead, glimmers of hope notwithstanding, we continue to throw too many of our best and brightest back into an environment that is quite the opposite.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.