Lesley Field (left) and Kay Ely take part in a panel discussion at the National Contract Management Association's 2014 World Congress. (Andy Medici)
Agencies must work harder to foster innovation and risk-taking in their acquisition process and contractor workforces, according to agency procurement officials.
Lesley Field, the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and Oversight at the Office of Management and Budget, said that means such things as giving employees the training and support they need, such as the development of mentor-mentee relationships between different parts of the agency.
Speaking at the National Contract Management Association 2014 World Congress on July 29, she said younger employees are also more willing to take risks and to think of new ideas and that managers must be careful to cultivate that innovation.
“Eliciting those kinds of ideas early on and helping them to manage that creativity early on is important,” she said.
Laura Auletta, the executive director for procurement policy and oversight at the Department of Homeland Security, said at the conference the agency tries hard to reach out to the private sector and include it when developing new ideas.
“I think we need to create forums outside of our federal contracts. We need to create forums for national dialogue,” Auletta said.
The agency partners with private companies in its loaned executive program where private company officials can work to solve a DHS problem over the course of six months.
DHS also employs industry liaisons who are full-time employees responsible for encouraging greater contractor participation and for making sure industry concerns are heard.
She said agencies must also make it clear to employees that they support taking responsible risks and are prepared in case of failure.
“People have to feel protected by their organization in order to take certain risks. When they feel they might be on their own it dampens their desire to innovate,” she said.
Kay Ely, the director of IT schedule programs at the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA, said at the conference the agency has worked aggressively to create a culture of innovation at the agency by forming the digital incubator 18F, and by soliciting employees at all levels for new ideas.
“Sometimes we get so close to what we are doing on a day to day basis sometimes we have to step outside of what we want to do and find a different way of doing things,” she said.
She said a team of employees have tackled non-productive parts of the GSA schedule, and have canceled about 1,000 of the 5,000 contracts because they were not generating sales.
“We have done it in manageable pieces,” she said. “That’s a really good example of managing the risk in slow incremental steps.”