Acquisition 2.0

OMB yesterday released its latest guidance on federal acquisition.  This new guidance, Increasing Competition and Structuring Contracts for the Best Results, provides guidelines for agencies to move to more competitive and lower risk types of contracts, along with semi-annual reports on progress.

But it is worth standing back and looking at some of the one-the-ground trends that are evolving in the acquisition community.  A very good article by Federal Computer Week’s Matthew Wiegart, “2.0 Takes Hold in the Acquisition Community,” provides just such a perspective.

In his article, he describes several examples of what is being called “Acquisition 2.0.” 

The first is the creation of self-organizing discussion groups.  The best known is the on-line forum hosted by GovLoop.  The informal champion is GSA’s assistant commissioner Mary Davie. This forum discusses trends in hiring acquisition professionals, ways of responding to bid protests, and ways to meet government goals for “greening” procurement.

The second is the Better Buy Project. Also championed by Davie, this project is a discussion group co-sponsored by several organizations with the goal of identifying ways of improving the first phase of the acquisition process, known as the “pre-award phase.”  Here, the goal is to draw on the broader acquisition community, both inside and outside the government, to identify best practices and innovative ideas.

The third is the use of on-line training and virtual mentoring. Agencies are increasing their hiring of acquisition specialists (OMB’s goal is a 5 percent increase by 2014) and the demand for training and mentoring is increasing as well.  Agencies are beginning to use on-line training and videos of retiring acquisition experts to bring new staff up to speed.  This follows a similar pattern in commercial industry.

In addition, there seems to be a fourth trend — trying innovative ways of doing things.  A great example is offered by former administrator of the governmentwide Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), Steve Kelman.  He describes how some researchers are piloting the use of prediction markets to see if they can improve cost and schedule forecasts in federal acquisition programs.  This is reminiscent of how the District of Columbia managed its portfolio of technology projects using a shadow “stock market” of these projects.

However, even with these examples of new openness and innovation, another former administrator of OFPP, Dee Lee, says that, more broadly, acquisition employees are scared and in a defensive crouch because of the general climate of distrust and criticism from Congress, watchdog groups, and the inspectors general.  She says that the administration has to provide leadership if it wants to overcome this climate and expand the use of Acquisition 2.0 approaches.  Maybe this new champion will be the recently nominated head of OFPP, Dan Gordon.  Kelman seems to think so, based on an effusive blog he wrote about Gordon’s nomination!

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