As the new year approaches, everyone tends to reflect on where they are and where they’re going. This year certainly didn’t go as many had planned — particularly concerning the 2016 elections. For acquisition, this means, like much else, everything is turned on its head.
In the short term, preexisting initiatives and policy from the past administration will continue, under the able stewardship of professional senior executives. It must be stressed, however, that there is scant evidence of what may change with the new administration. There is much conjecture, but no one really knows.
What will be the new administration’s acquisition priorities? Speculation opaquely says increased outsourcing of government activity, but what does that mean?
While it may be a little early for substantive discussion on new policies on the horizon, we do know what the current issues are within acquisition — in particular, the increased influence of technology and continued human resources challenges. A roundup of other activity follows.
Certainly, cybersecurity is a huge concern, including the need for an acquisition process responsive to this challenge.
Following breaches and initial forms of government responses, several initiatives are evolving to address the threat. Success is mixed, but improving.
In 2013, using General Services Administration schedules and blanket ordering agreements, the Department of Homeland Security launched the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program to support the monitoring of IT networks and defend against cyberthreats. Three years and several phases later, progress can be assessed and measurable impacts on federal network security seen. How the "Cybersecurity National Action Plan" impacts industry partners is yet to be determined.
Furthermore, on Oct. 4, 2016, the Department of Defense issued a long-awaited final rule implementing statutory requirements regarding the reporting by defense contractors of certain cyber incidents relating to their electronic systems. These requirements go beyond existing data breach notification requirements, contract-specific reporting or cyber-incident response terms. This final rule includes new definitions for covered contractor information system and covered defense information, and it also expands the "Defense Industrial Base Cybersecurity" information-sharing program.
Other ongoing acquisition initiatives include how to determine fair and reasonable pricing for commercial items, which one might think would be easy and straightforward by now (having been redefined, litigated and resolved), but unfortunately that still isn't the case. Another initiative is "transactional data reporting," which provides purchase data from
contract vehicles to contracting officers that can be "invaluable in creating smarter buying strategies and procurement decisions, increased competition, and generally improved data around government buying patterns."
Also, the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA), intended to enhance accountability and best practices in project and program management throughout the federal government, has cleared the House and awaits further action. Among other things, the PMIAA:
- Creates a formal job series and career path for program managers.
- Develops a standards-based program management policy.
- Promotes an executive sponsorship and engagement role by designating a senior executive responsible for program management policy and strategy.
- Shares knowledge of successful approaches to program management through an interagency council on program management.
In addition, managing conflict of interest in an increasingly interconnected government/industry environment is proving to be a growing concern to both, as industry wishes to deliver products and services to government while simultaneously advising and assisting government in defining its procurement needs and assisting with evaluating industry products and services. As the line between government and industry blurs — and what actions are considered "inherently governmental" remain moving targets — this topic requires further exploration and clarification.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16 NDAA) brought forth several new initiatives, including the establishment of two advisory panels. The DoD’s Section 813 Panel was established to review rights in technical data and the validation of proprietary data restrictions so they could best be structured to serve the interests of taxpayers and the national defense. The Section 813 Panel was to give appropriate consideration to ensure the following:
- The DoD doesn’t pay more than once for the same work.
- Contractors are appropriately rewarded for their innovation and invention.
- Cost-effective reprocurement, sustainment, modification and upgrades to systems are conducted.
- The private sector is encouraged to invest in new products, technologies and processes.
- The DoD has appropriate access to innovative products, technologies and processes developed by the private sector for commercial use.
Indeed, as stated by DoD officials more than once, "innovation is truly a national security imperative." The findings of the Section 813 Panel led to a final rule published this past fall.
Section 809 of the FY16 NDAA also established another advisory panel to review DoD acquisition regulations with a view toward streamlining and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the process and maintaining a technological advantage. The panel is charged with making any recommendations for amendment or repeal they deem necessary to:
- Establish and administer appropriate buyer and seller relationships in the procurement system.
- Improve the functioning of the acquisition system.
- Continue the financial and ethical integrity of defense procurement programs.
- Protect the best interest of the DoD.
While panels can share their findings and make recommendations, only the executive or legislative branches can implement them. Thus, significant change resulting from these groups is "TBD." The Section 809 Panel will be meeting with sectors of the contract management profession at the National Contract Management Association’s Government Contract Management Symposium from Dec. 12-13 in Washington, D.C.
Finally, the perception continues to take hold of a growing gap between acquisition leaders’ perception of the skills held by the professionals they manage (including critical thinking skills) and the self-assessment of the workforce itself.
Recently, DoD leaders again began looking into the use of "other transaction authority," allowing for contracting outside the federal acquisition regulation (FAR). Regardless of what method or authority, the agreement between what the government requires and what industry delivers is a (frequently complex) contract. The case that many or any specific FAR provision or requirement prohibits less optimal outcomes for the government remains unmade.
As is always the case, regardless of legislation and policy, the people within acquisition (where they come from, how they are hired, the skills they possess, the qualifications they receive and from where, etc.) will be the top priority.
Though contractors can't be certain of the next administration's policies and priorities, some would say there are steps they can take now to be ready. For example:
- Make sure you’re "well positioned" to justify your programs and role within them, including risk mitigation.
- Have alternate strategies to address reduced program funding, redirection or outright cancellation.
- Identify program champion(s) and sponsors.
- Rethink corporate strategy and other business options.
- Keep track of leadership change within the agency and legislative side, including the administration and congressional committees.
- Form relationships with new leaders as necessary.
- Be positioned for the future.
Michael P. Fischetti is the executive director of the National Contract Management Association.