Vendors now can really tell agencies how they feel about their acquisition processes and procedures.
The guidelines for Acquisition 360, a Yelp-like approach to rating the acquisition process, arrived Wednesday from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Anne Rung. The nine-page memo details how agencies should seek customer feedback from contractors and internal stakeholders on how well the contracting process went for specific procurements.
“This effort is not intended to be used to rate individual contracting officers, program managers, or integrated project teams (IPTs), or to compare procuring offices generally, as the complexity of procurements varies greatly among agencies, and unexpected challenges can arise,” Rung wrote in the memo. “However, these tools are meant to help agencies identify strengths and weaknesses with industry partnerships so they can make internal improvements on the planning and making of contract awards.”
Rung gave agencies one month to identify at least two of their largest contracts or task orders for complex IT development, systems or services awarded within the past six months to conduct the first set of surveys.
She also is requiring agencies to survey at least 50 or 5 percent of all new awards for complex IT development, systems or services by Sept. 30.
“We will be using Acquisition 360, the first ever transaction-based feedback tool that allows agencies to identify strengths and weaknesses in their acquisition processes with the focus on pre-award activities, contract execution, and certain post award activities, such as debriefings,” Rung wrote on a blog post. “It has long been the case where ineffective communication between federal agencies and vendors, amongst other complex processes, lead to unnecessary burden on vendors, higher government costs and unfavorable outcomes for taxpayers. These shortcomings have been the premise of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s (OFFP) open dialogue with both internal and external stakeholders. And these conversations have led to greater improvements in early vendor engagement and timely and specific feedback from key stakeholders that we will build upon today.”
In an interview with Federal News Radio, Rung said this idea of 360 reviews came from the national dialogue on federal acquisition OFPP held last year.
“Many of our industry participants expressed concern about the lack of communication between government and industry during the pre-award phase,” Rung said. “What was striking was that many of the issues raised by industry were fundamental issues like poor communication. This is an effort address that issue and bridge the gap between industry and government on acquisition.”
This idea of vendor feedback isn’t necessarily new. OFPP in 2011 and 2012 issued two memos called Mythbusters in an effort to improve communication with industry.
“Mythbusters was really targeted at opening the communication between vendors and the government during the pre-award phase because we think that’s where we think we can get the most value out of those communications. While those were general parameters and general guidance that we gave to the agencies and industry, this is very targeted,” said Lesley Field, OFPP deputy administrator. “So in order to make sure agencies were really embracing the Mythbusters concept and engaging with industry, we thought this would be a good way to get that feedback from industry because who better to tell us how well the agencies are doing in that regard. Then also take this opportunity to take some these internal evaluations done on a particular transaction.”
The Professional Services Council in 2013 also issued a report calling for the government to institute 360 degree assessments of acquisition process outcomes.
“Simply put, in the aftermath of any significant acquisition, customer and partner satisfaction surveys should be conducted to identify ways in which key communities (including internal operational customers, for profit and not-for-profit implementing partners) felt the acquisition process was effective and responsive, and ways in which it was not,” PSC wrote in the report. “Industry will frequently conduct such internal lessons learned reviews to help inform their future bidding and performance strengths and weaknesses.”
PSC said the results of these surveys could be a powerful learning tool for contractors and agencies alike.
Rung first announced the Acquisition 360 concept earlier this month, saying OFPP was expanding a pilot the General Services Administration conducted in 2014 with the OASIS professional services governmentwide acquisition contract.
In the memo, she said agencies should use the same 15 questions for all surveys, but the departments could inquire on other subjects as well.
The template included in the memo breaks down the questions for vendors into four categories, including requirements development process, solicitation phase, award execution and debriefings and overall satisfaction.
OFPP also provided a template for internal use by the agency’s program and contracting offices focused on two main areas: planning and communications.
Rung said the survey results would remain anonymous so vendors could feel more at ease to give candid feedback without worrying about making their potential customer mad.
She said OFPP would take the data to look for trends or indications where agencies may want to strengthen or share best practices across government.
“In addition to getting feedback on how well the acquisition team worked, we are also interested in better understanding why contracting officers choose certain interagency solutions over others, or why they choose certain contract vehicles. As such, there are two additional questions on the contracting officer’s survey for those awards made using governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) and General Services Administration (GSA) schedules,” the memo stated. “Surveying these customers will allow servicing agencies to compare satisfaction rates with different procurement services across government. This information will be helpful as we implement category management and further leverage the buying power of the government while reducing the number of duplicative vehicles. Simultaneous to this effort, GSA will begin surveying agency customers and vendors regarding their eBuy experience on select acquisitions, which will provide further information on the effectiveness of our acquisition solutions and processes.”
Field said agency Chief Acquisition Officers expressed some concern initially about the ratings system, but OFPP tried to alleviate those questions as it drafted the memo and came up with the approach.
Rung said as agencies use the survey, OFPP will reevaluate the questions, focus areas and survey thresholds to improve the customer feedback experience.
“We want to provide, for the first time, real data and a meaningful way to really measure the degree which the agency reached its desired outcome and best served that customer,” she said. “What I particularly like about this survey is that we get input from both the winning and the losing proposers who might have a slightly different perspective on what worked or what didn’t work, as well as allowing the internal stakeholders to evaluate each other.”
OFPP also reminded agencies to use one of the commercially available survey that the government has terms of service agreements with, such as 4Q Survey or SurveyMonkey.
“The results of agencies’ external and internal surveys shall be submitted to the agencies’ Chief Acquisition Officer, Senior Procurement Executive, vendor engagement official and other appropriate agency leaders in order to strengthen their acquisition practices,” the memo stated. “Additionally, agencies will be asked to submit aggregate response data, so that OMB can improve any potential future surveys. Agencies should use their responses to identify best practices and any subject areas in need of improvement, not to evaluate individuals or make programmatic changes.”
Field said this is the first time OFPP has led a governmentwide effort to measure agency procurement processes.
Rung said OFPP is working on several other memos that should be out in the next couple of months. She said one will address Category Management, and another will cover workforce and training to drive greater innovation through procurement.