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A new framework for acquiring professional services

Mar. 17, 2013 - 01:48PM   |  
By ROGER WALDRON   |   Comments

The Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative seeks to leverage purchasing power across the federal enterprise. To date, FSSI has focused on commodities. However, federal strategic sourcing continues to evolve with apparent interest in strategic sourcing of complex professional services.

The General Services Administration recently released the business case for One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS), its governmentwide contract for complex professional services. The OASIS business case calls for a contracting vehicle that will “incorporate strategic sourcing principles to the maximum extent practicable” and achieve “strategic sourcing-like benefits at the federal level and take critical first steps to bring professional services under spend management.”

The current FSSI approach (e.g., leveraging volume, collecting transactional data and driving prices down) has limited application to the cost-effective, best-value acquisition of complex, professional services.

Applying the principles of “strategic acquisition” to complex professional services will foster cost-effective, best-value outcomes for government, industry and, most importantly, the taxpayer. The strategic acquisition of complex professional services requires:

• A focus on requirements development. Sound requirements development is the “blocking and tackling” of federal acquisition. It is not pretty and requires great effort, but it is fundamental to achieving best-value outcomes for customer agencies and the taxpayer. Clear, effective communication of sound requirements increases competition, improves mission performance, reduces risk and ultimately saves money.

• Conducting a dialogue on data collection. Data is not a free good. Data is also often proprietary property. Increasingly, the government has imposed new data collection and reporting requirements on contractors. More often than not, the data to be collected is actually created by the government! The government shifts the responsibility for collection and reporting to the contractor as a cost measure. Ultimately, the increased contractor costs are borne by the government through higher prices or overhead rates. It is time for a data dialogue between government and industry as to appropriate data collection parameters. For instance, this dialogue should address questions such as what is the purpose, what data should be collected, and can best commercial collection practices be applied?

• Leveraging economies of skill. Service contracts should not be structured to limit the private sector’s ability to provide cutting-edge, best-in-class capabilities that save money. Rather, service contracts must be structured to provide flexibility at the task order level to meet immediate customer agency mission requirements across the best-value continuum. There may be instances where a low-cost approach makes sense. However, the successful performance of complex mission requirements often requires a best-value solution or a performance-based statement of work. For example, it is not in our national interest to acquire cybersecurity services on a low-cost, technically acceptable basis. Maintaining flexibility in contracting for complex professional services will ensure access to best-value solutions for customer agencies and the taxpayer.

• Reducing contract duplication. Contract duplication increases transactional and administrative costs for government and industry. These costs are ultimately borne by the taxpayer. It is time to reduce the number of contracts for the same or similar services across the federal enterprise. To the maximum extent practicable, customer agencies should acquire service requirements via task order competitions under pre-existing governmentwide contract vehicles like the GSA schedules and the information technology governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs). Implementation of OASIS provides a further opportunity to reduce contract duplication costs.

• Measuring total acquisition cost. The current strategic sourcing approach seeks to drive down prices to achieve savings. However, price is just one element of the government’s total acquisition cost. TAC includes price and all other costs incurred in the acquisition process, including the government’s administrative costs for planning and conducting an acquisition. There may be instances where the TAC increases even though the price paid decreases. TAC provides an opportunity to streamline acquisition processes and procedures.

GSA is to be commended for conducting an open, transparent dialogue regarding OASIS consistent with the Office of Management and Budget’s “Myth-Buster” policy memorandum calling for more proactive communication between government and industry throughout the procurement process. I hope GSA will release a draft request for proposals that embraces strategic acquisition and TAC. I believe that strategic acquisition provides a framework for delivering best-value outcomes for customer agencies, contractors and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

Roger Waldron is president of The Coalition for Government Procurement, a trade association representing GSA vendors.

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