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Feds and contractors need to talk more, agencies say

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A handful of agencies are taking steps to improve coordination between program managers, contracting officers and contractors in hopes of delivering less wasteful, more effective IT acquisitions.

The Energy Department, for example, is using a series of agency-wide meetings to share ideas on what’s being bought and what contracts are used in certain information technology arenas, such as mobility, open government and geospatial, Pete Tseronis, the department’s chief technology officer, said at the Acquisition Excellence conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Companies can attend the events and network with the agency’s program managers and contracting officers, Tseronis said. But he has heard from contractors who are later bounced between the program office and the contracting officer when they try to get information about upcoming contracts or market their technologies to the agency, he said.

“Government has to fix something about dialogue,” he said. “Otherwise, why do these events?”

Acquisition officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement are trying to improve communication between program managers and contracting officers so they can come up with better statements of work on a contract, said Brent Bushey, an ICE IT program manager. Pressures to award contracts quickly have driven acquisition officers to speed through those early discussions, he said.

“You say you want to go fast, but you have no idea what you’re trying to buy or how to articulate that,” Bushey said.

Government and contractor panelists at the conference, which was hosted by the General Services Administration and American Council for Technology’s Industry Advisory Council, agreed that companies can offer helpful insight to agencies about how best to structure program requirements. But contracting officers are afraid that meeting with a contractor about an upcoming procurement will look bad and give competing companies reason to protest their decisions, officials said.

That fear is a focus of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s campaign last year to encourage contracting officers to communicate with industry, called Mythbusters. Better communication should lead to fewer protests, not more, federal procurement officials said.

About a month ago, OFPP added a “vendor collaboration” link to the Federal Business Opportunities website where agencies post contract notices. The new link directs contractors to pre-solicitiation opportunities, such as requests for information and agency industry days.

OFPP is also planning a follow-up to the Mythbusters campaign that will focus more on issues faced by the contractor community, OFPP acting administrator Lesley Field said during the conference.

Readers, how would you describe communication between federal program and contracting offices? What about between the government and industry? Where are the hangups?

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Comments

  1. James Feynman Says:
    April 1st, 2012 at 1:07 am

    The Senate sub-committee on travel of Federal employees is recommending a draft bill containing several innovations sure to alarm Federal employees and unions. Noting that total expenses for TDY, per diem, and other travel costs exceeded $1 billion in 2011 – for the first time – the new bill is intended to discourage travel as much as possible.

    Per diem. Because Feds need to eat, no matter where they are, the bill proposes to pay for marginal expenses in this area. That is, the full per diem rate will, in all cases, be offset by $30 per day. This change alone is expected to reduce expenditures by approximately $75 million annually.

    Lodging. Whenever possible, employees will be required to share rooms. To have a single room approved, the employee and his supervisor will be required to sign a form, certifying non-availability of other Federal employees.

    In what will certainly be one of the most controversial moves, for any TDY where the trip is known at least 10 days in advance, and the trip is to an urban area of at least 100,000 population, the local travel office will be required to make arrangements for the employee to stay at available beds in hospitals, homeless shelters, or local jails (not prisons). As with the single-room waiver, a certification as to non-availability will be possible in justifiable circumstances.

    Use of taxis and rental cars will still be allowed, but only in extraordinary, limited situations, such as in remote areas or after darkness. The details of this provision have yet to be worked out.

    Readers not pleased with the above are encouraged to note today’s date. (April 1)

    Fedbens.us

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