Yelp-like ratings system coming to IT procurements

Vendors, contracting officers and program managers soon will be rated like on Yelp, Consumer Reports or dozens of other websites that review businesses or products.

Anne Rung, the administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said she would soon issue guidance creating the Acquisition 360 rating process.

Rung said the guidance will further implement a pilot program the General Services Administration did last year with its OASIS professional services governmentwide acquisition contract.

“It’s the first ever transaction-based feedback tool that will allow agencies to identify strengths and weaknesses in their acquisition process with a focus on pre- award activities, contract execution and certain post-award activities such as debriefings,” Rung said at the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington Tuesday. “This initial effort would give us experience with such a tool and allow us to gain significant insight into where our weak points are, where we are doing well, so we can share that with other partners.”

Advertisement

She said the pilot asked 15 questions about the acquisition effort. The full program will expand those ratings to a broader community of acquisition professionals. Rung said the new guidance will not only ask industry to rate specific IT procurements, but also ask contracting mangers to rate program managers and vice versa using the same 15 questions.

She said the rating is not meant to focus on the people, but the acquisition process itself.

Acquisition 360 is one of several new initiatives that came from her Dec. 4 memo, in which she outlined her three-pronged approach to improving the federal acquisition process.

Rung offered a three-month progress report across all three of her top initiatives:

  • Buying as one through category management
  • Build stronger vendor relationships
  • Drive innovation in the acquisition process

Category management will continue to expand specifically in the IT hardware and software areas.

“Our goal is in the next three months to have all the contracts — bureauwide, agencywide and governmentwide — in the IT commodity management area online in this site and available for use by our contracting officers,” Rung said. “The idea here is that it’s intended to allow you to find and compare existing solutions so you can make better decisions.”

Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget’s E-Government and IT office will hire an IT category manager to work with Tony Scott, the federal CIO, GSA’s Mary Davie, the assistant commissioner in the Office of Integrated Technology Services, and Rung’s office to improve how agencies spend $25 billion annually on these commodity technologies.

“We are also hiring an IT vendor manager that will reside in GSA who will provide full-time focus on improving relationships with key types of vendors, especially those who have multiple contracts for similar goods and services,” she said. “The hiring of an IT vendor manager is really meant to pilot [the idea of vendor management offices]. We want to focus them on a specific set of companies or specific set of commodities, learn from our first vendor managers and then build a team out over time. Really for the first time, we will have someone with eyes across the enterprise on all of the contracts. It’s also meant to assist the companies in helping them litigate and navigate all of their issues across all of these procurement units.”

A buyer’s club for everyone

Rung said she expects the IT vendor manager and IT category manager positions posted this spring and hired by this summer.

The IT vendor manager will work within GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy. The idea of an IT vendor manager came mostly from the President’s Management Advisory Board, a group of private sector CEOs who meet with OMB and agency executives to help address specific IT, human resources and acquisition challenges. It looked like OMB would put a vendor management office in every agency, but it never came to fruition despite successful tests at the Veterans Affairs Department, the IRS and other agencies.

Along with the IT hallway, Rung said GSA will launch a TechFAR hub on GSA’s Common Acquisition Platform where the hallways reside. She said the hub also will support a federal buyer’s club with best practices and strategies to buy IT better. The goal, she said, is to have a buyer’s club in every major agency.

President Barack Obama asked for money in his fiscal 2016 budget request to set up five pilot buyer’s clubs at the departments of Commerce, Education, Treasury, and GSA and the Small Business Administration.

The concept of idea labs is based on some of the work done through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Buyers Club, which is trying to give contracting officers and program managers support and confidence to take small or smart risks when managing or buying technology.

Broader training on agile needed

Along those same lines, Rung said OFPP will support the technical digital services teams that each agency is developing.

“The goal is for the program for training acquisition specialists in digital IT would begin this summer and we’d have our first class of certified digital IT acquisition specialists by the end of this calendar year,” she said. “Ideally, when you have the digital teams up and running in the agencies, they would be partnered with the technologists in the agencies. The goal is to have a team of acquisition specialists that really know how to write the requirements and handle the acquisition.”

OMB will launch a challenge in the coming months to get three ideas for how best to create this certification program. Rung said OFPP will test out three different approaches, which may or may not include classroom training.

OFPP also is developing cross-functional training for integrated product teams that are working on procurements for digital services. Additionally, OFPP is looking at digital services training for agency general counsels, other senior agency leaders and financial management workers so they can better understand what it takes to buy this way.

Additionally, the Federal Acquisition Institute is developing a seminar on agile acquisitions that will be available in April.

On top of all of those initiatives, Rung said she will launch a podcast on innovation strategies, and a new program with ACT-IAC called “Lifting the Veil” to improve industry-government communications.

RELATED STORIES:

OFPP’s Rung rolls out 3- pronged acquisition improvement plan

OMB to expand vendor offices after initial successful tests

IT budget request rises to $86B, including $105M for digital services

OMB gives agencies a deadline to set up digital services teams