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Achieving acquisition agility in the intelligence community

By Mary Majoros and Sean Connell

Acquisition agility is one of the six foundational priorities outlined by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in its recently released IC2025 Vision and Foundational Priorities.This vision mirrors the President’s Management Agenda, which directs agencies to not only strengthen the program management capabilities of the acquisition workforce but to also have the acquisitions themselves become more flexible and agile.

Now it’s up to the Intelligence Community (IC) to make a change. ODNI is looking to industry partners to help make the acquisition process faster and more innovative. We understand the challenges faced by today’s IC contracting officers (COs)—Mary is a retired Senior Intelligence Service officer with 28 years of leadership experience in the IC who is now in the private sector and Sean has helped federal agencies solve a variety of IT challenges for the past 20 years.

COs sometimes have difficulties keeping up with the pace of agency missions due to archaic regulations, processes and procedures, as well as systems and software that are outdated, not properly optimized or both. Complex and changing regulations, increasingly intricate procurements and staff shortages and less experienced COs and personnel also complicate matters.

A common, resonant complaint among working-level and procurement executives is that the human perspective is being lost. Spending so much time performing manual functions on increasingly customized systems inhibits them from being more involved in mission planning and outcomes and, thus, having a say in a more streamlined acquisition processes.

Against this backdrop, here are four things that can be done to help the IC begin realizing acquisition agility.

It Starts With the Culture

Acquisition agility involves changing an organization’s culture. Successful implementation requires frequent communication across all levels of an organization, a commitment from leadership to remain open to new information and unconventional approaches—oftentimes giving frontline employees a strong voice and bringing new partners to the table—and a coordinated approach to human capital management to ensure the right behaviors and outcomes are being realized.

Return to COTS Core Code

Working off ofcustomized code can constrain agencies from integrating industry best practices meant to enhance agility, promote standardization and increase user efficiencies. Leveraging COTS core code would allow IC acquisition shops to keep pace with software releases that incorporate procurement process improvements, security enhancements and continuous regulatory changes, aspects that make acquisitions management difficult for even the most seasoned contracting professionals.

Additionally, unique or complex agency requirements that are treated as enhancements—rather than customizations—provide the most benefit to the government at the lowest cost and risk. We commonly approach enhancements as requirements built into the core product, available in future product releases and maintained by the product vendor, thus reducing overall cost, complexity and risk while improving auditability.

Own the Technology

Clients are often not aware, or do not take full advantage, of capabilities their current software has to offer. They also often fail to take advantage of independent user groups. For example, the government-run Momentum User Group (MUG) collaborates monthly to share best practices and shape the product’s future direction and enhancements. These groups benefit the entire user base and give COs the ability to proactively affect future releases rather than reacting to changes after the fact.

Embrace Innovation

Utilizing such emerging technologies as blockchain and robotic process automation help agencies not only become more secure but also enables them to streamline processes and keep up with change and continuous compliance. Furthermore, automation of tedious tasks allows COs to perform next-level functions that can help deliver on agency mission. For example, one of our clients recently automated the procurement manager’s assignment of contract specialists, which eliminated 25 clicks from the process, leading to a huge boost of productivity and morale during the high volume period of the year.

Implementing these four flexible, risk-managed steps can help streamline the procurement processes. Acquisition agility at mission pace is possible so long as we’re willing to work together to empower COs and adapt to changing priorities.

Mary Majoros and Sean Connell are both Directors at CGI Federal.

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