New acquisition techniques can help contracting professionals and Federal IT leaders work together to bring new technology into government in a fast and efficient manner, said acquisition leaders during FCW’s Accelerate GOV conference on Thursday.
“When people tell me that procurement is slow, my immediate reaction is, why? Why do you think it’s slow? Tell me what’s slow. And that’s when people start to stutter a little bit” said Soraya Correa, chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She said some of industry’s main responses to those questions: lack of communication and length of time it takes to hear back from agencies.
“Let me tell you a little secret: the procurement process isn’t really that slow. On the 30th of September, we will have obligated $15 billion dollars that were appropriated to us in late March, but didn’t really get handed to us until about May,” Correa said. “What’s slow is our planning, our communications with you, and how we work the process.”
“We definitely need to move at the speed of the need within government,” said Traci Walker, director of digital service procurement at the U.S. Digital Service. She pointed to the creation of the FAC-C certification as a step forward. “What this really does is create a development program that is going to take contracting professionals, train them in digital service and new technology, and make them aware of this market and how to buy in it,” she said.
However, Walker also admitted the need for improvement.
“We can absolutely do better. There are a lot of programs and ways to get to this kind of stuff that people kind of don’t necessarily look for,” she said. Among the tools she highlighted were: challenges and prizes to help agencies learn more and receive pilots; micro-purchases under the threshold of $10,000; micro-consulting for two or three-day periods to help develop requests for information; and modular contracting, where agencies can divide contracts into smaller amounts.
Correa also shared some of the tools her team uses to cut down the time to acquisition. She emphasized the importance of using downselects to offer early feedback, streamlining documentation where possible, comparative evaluations, and group oral debriefings. Chief among her advice to attendees was the use of oral presentations and technical demonstrations.
“In fact, we have a procurement that we’re doing this week … that we’re doing all oral presentations,” she noted. “We will probably have this procurement awarded on Friday, and we started on Monday,” she added. “You know why people avoid oral presentations? Because they’re scared. They fear that you in industry might misquote us, or that we may say something to one of you that we didn’t say to the others. I’m taking the fear out of this,” said Correa. She estimated that “probably 70 percent of what we’re buying out here, we can probably do it with oral demonstrations, product demos and technical demos.”