DISA to host its first reverse industry day

The Defense Information Systems Agency is the latest federal agency to decide to follow in the Homeland Security Department’s footsteps by organizing a one-day event to hear directly from industry about its concerns in doing business with the government.

DISA’s spin on what DHS and other agencies have called “reverse industry days” will happen during the first week of December, and will be termed “Inside Industry.”

Doug Packard, DISA’s senior procurement executive, said the agency is still working through the final details, but wants the event to be tailored to the particular types of products and services that fall within the agency’s $5.8 billion contracting budget, and not simply a repeat of the forums DHS has already hosted.

“I’m not sure yet who the right players are, but I think what we need is for a consortium that represents ‘X’ — the commercial satellite or IT services or circuits sector — sit on a panel, and tell us, for example, ‘Your CLIN structure is stupid because of this particular reason,’ and be very candid,” he said Monday at the agency’s annual forecast to industry in Washington.

Packard said DISA is leaning toward speakers that are representatives of industry groups rather than of particular companies, because it’s “awkward” for individual firms to be openly critical of the agency because of fears that they’ll be punished on future contracts.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen, he insisted.

“But if you think it does, create a panel, name unknown, and tell us what you don’t like,” he said. “You can wire brush us, it’s all good, but I want to tailor it to what we buy. When it comes to exactly how we buy telecommunications circuits, no one knows or cares about that at a typical reverse industry day, but we know and we care.”

The DISA engagement represents a growing trend within the federal government of agencies hosting forums where the speakers are members of industry and the audience is government leaders and agency personnel. The purpose tends to be several-fold: to gather industry concerns about what makes the government an unnecessarily troublesome customer, to learn about current industry practices, including how businesses conduct their own procurements, and to reverse what many government and industry officials see as an unhealthy trend of arms-length communication between agency and vendors.

At least four federal agencies have held reverse industry days in 2017. DHS recently conducted its third after having pioneered the idea in 2016.

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