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Trump leveraging Obama initiatives to jump start acquisition reform

April 21, 2017 (Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff)
With the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize the executive branch underway, acquisition officials are seeing an opportunity to refine the way agencies shop.

At the Association for Federal Information Resources Management’s monthly speaker series on April 20, federal acquisition officials discussed how the White House’s embrace of category management and innovation could help move the ball forward when it comes to acquisition reform.

“What I’m feeling here through this process is that there is going to be more of an emphasis on how are agencies doing in not only in improving category management, but also how are they improving innovation,” said Lesley Field, deputy administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

“I think there is a great appetite for, ‘Let’s think outside of the box.’ What else can we do to be innovative, whether that’s in technology, whether it’s in acquisition. There are lots of things we can do, and I feel that there is a desire to reduce the complexity and the tyranny of complexity.”

Complexity is a foe the administration’s reorganization plan certainly attempts to vanquish, compelling agencies to assess how to make their operations, personnel and missions work more efficiently.

Among the recommendations made in the executive order laying out reorganization initiatives, the administration touts the use of shared services, category management, Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts and other methods at the disposal of the General Services Administration.

Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Tom Sharpe said while the White House will set its own goals and desired outcomes when it comes to acquisition, the framework for how to get there is in place now with category management initiatives that began under former President Obama.

“We’ve got organizational principles and the muscles set in place, ready to receive direction and execute,” he said.

But there will certainly be changes with the new administration’s approach, not the least is OMB’s decision to not use FedStat sessions to help craft the agency reform plans being developed this summer in favor of direct meetings with agency chief financial officers.

Field said she didn’t know whether the FedStat reviews would resume in 2018, but that the budget would play a big role in the president’s management agenda and any changes to the reviews.

“We’re working on the budget now, so I think the management agenda will flow from all of that,” she said, “And that may be a way to bring in FedStat, change it, tweak it or do something different.”

Another way to reform the acquisition process could be to change the agency culture surrounding it.

Sharpe cited a leadership example from the 2008 financial crisis, when the Treasury Department used the Federal Acquisition Regulation to disburse bailout funds authorized by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

“Those procurements were done in days,” he said. “Formal source selections, under the FAR, they did limit sources, but not a sole-source [contract]. Files were handed to GAO on-site within 24 hours of contract award. The leadership challenge was met on both the customer and procurement side.

“There’s elements of this [in the reorganization plan]. We should take burden out. We should think about sharing where we can, but there’s also a leadership challenge to apply ourselves to whatever process we come up with.”

Sharpe noted that agency leadership could help streamline the acquisition process in a way that wouldn’t require legislative change from Congress, by driving the efficiencies outlined in the reorganization plan.

“I read the memo, and I think it’s challenging leaders to do better,” he said. “And here’s one are to focus among others, acquisition.”

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