OFPP readying round 2 of Mythbusters

Mythbusters 2 is coming to an acquisition professional near you. No, it’s not a sequel to a bad horror movie. Rather, it’s the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s latest effort to challenge the long-held views in and about industry.

“We are building on Mythbusters 1, which we did last year to encourage more vendor-government communication. We are looking at doing a second document that might look at it from industry’s side and what are the things they could do to make the engagements more productive and make sure we are all getting the most out of time together,” said Lesley Field, OFPP acting administrator, Thursday during the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington. “It’s stating the myths from the industry’s perspective so that the industry can see themselves in it and say ‘how can I make sure that I’ve gotten all the information I need before I go into a meeting with a contracting officer? What are the kinds of things I can do? Where do I go for information so I can be really up to speed on everything before we sit down so we can have the most productive conversation.'”

Field wouldn’t offer specific details on what myths OFPP is trying to bust from the industry’s side.

She said OFPP is working closely with vendor organizations and contractors about which are the most common myths. OFPP should finish the document in the next few months.

“It’s probably nothing surprising, but it’s good information for industry to take back with them,” Field said.

Alan Chvotkin, vice president and senior counsel for the Professional Services Council, told In-Depth with Francis Rose in December that the big issues that could be covered in Mythbusters 2 are how to deal with proprietary data and what agencies can reveal about acquisition strategies before the release of a solicitation.

Mythbusters 2 follows OFPP’s initial campaign to dispel commonly held myths by agencies. Former OFPP administrator Dan Gordon launched Mythbusters about a year ago with the goal of dispelling several misunderstandings about agency and vendor communications.

Many in industry have mixed feelings about the campaign. Some at the Acquisition Excellence conference yesterday said agencies are implementing the communication strategies inconsistently. Others say OFPP’s focus has waned in the recent months.

Vendor communications plans posted

As part of the Mythbusters effort, agencies developed vendor communications plans detailing the steps they will take to work more closely with contractors during the pre-solicitation and market research phases.

Field said OFPP worked with the General Services Administration to post those plans on a new section on FedBizOpps.gov. The vendor collaboration page lists all agency-issued requests for information, sources-sought notices and market research.

“Building off Mythbusters, we understood sometimes it’s hard to find when agencies were having industry days or opportunities for engagement,” she said. “It gives government and industry some good space at the beginning of the process, especially in the pre-RFP time frame where we are building requirements, industry can help us shape those, and we are looking at the acquisition strategy and they can tell us if we are heading down the right path or not. We thought publicizing those opportunities would help us get to a better end state.”

Users can sort by posted date, by agency, by set-aside and by a host of other categories.

Field said the vendor communications plans include points of contact and tangible events agencies were holding to reduce communication barriers.

Several agencies are taking additional steps to improve communication with industry and broaden their acquisition development efforts.

Darren Ash, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chief information officer, said the agency set up portfolio councils led by the acquisition experts. The councils, which also include technology workers, conducted an analysis of NRC’s spending and found several opportunities to save money.

“We focused on training and found we had 16 large vendors working with us and we dropped that down to three,” Ash said. “We are looking at savings of 20-to-30 percent. That is big for a small agency like us. We now have groups involved in the IT area. For instance, we are looking at printers because we know we can do it better and buy smarter.”

IRS’ VMO helping save money

The IRS, meanwhile, is one of the few agencies with a well established vendor management office.

Jacob Hansen, the IRS director of procurement, said there is an acquisition liaison as part of the agency’s formal governance structure. The governance council is led by the IRS chief technology officer Terry Milholland.

“Anything purchased by the IRS must go through governance committee,” Hansen said.

OFPP also wants agencies to develop cadres of IT acquisition experts. The administration issued a memo in July detailing how to create this group of experts.

“We think agencies are taking a look at doing that especially for their high risk environments,” Field said. “I think we will see more as we start to build the capabilities.”

She said many agencies are looking at putting together or have started developing these cadres.

Field said the Veterans Affairs Department has had a lot of success with developing and using these experts to ensure procurements stay on the right track.

“They are really focused on those high risk areas on IT and because it’s moving so quickly having everyone working together in an integrated product team environment but maybe something more formalized is a really helpful way to meet those pressures.”


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