Agencies looking to improve their acquisition process should first assume that they don’t know all the details of what they need, according to acquisition officials who spoke at a Government Information Technology Executive Council summit April 23, 2018.

“Even though we have a lot of smart people as feds, I think we need to be a bit humble and assume that we may not have all the answers. Because if you assume that you have the answers, and you write the contracts to deliver what you assume is required, let me tell you something, you will get it,” Avi Bender, director of the National Technical Information Service at the Department of Commerce, said during a panel discussion.

Bender explained that often agency expectations of what they need to solve a problem don’t match up with the actual best solution to that problem.

He added that the government also shouldn’t try to claim the rights to the underlying code and intellectual property provided by the private sector, so that those companies can sell back to other agencies or use the IP to benefit the economy overall.

“We believe that most of the IP should go to the private sector. They’re taking the risk, they’re making investments, they should benefit from this and be able to provide it back to the federal government. I do not believe, personally, that the federal government can ever hire enough people and resources to address all of the issues that they have to address,” Bender said.

Alla Goldman Seiffert, acting assistant commissioner and director of the General Service Administration Technology Transformation Service’s Office of Acquisition, said that the private sector will often work hard in an acquisition to provide exactly what an agency needs. “If you ask industry to jump, they will say ‘how high?’”

According to Eric Cho, project lead for the Procurement Innovation Lab at the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Acquisition Regulations even explicitly provide for contracting officers to be more innovative in their acquisition processes. But not all acquisition shops feel that their agency encourages that innovation,

“We think we are getting some traction and getting some momentum, but it’s very fragile,” Cho said.

Seiffert added that there is only so much acquisition officials can do until their agencies become more open to risk and to using advanced technologies like the cloud.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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