Government Contracting Automation?

Recent survey results of federal acquisition senior procurement executives and chief acquisition officers provide a window into the world of government procurement and what should occur over the next few years, according to Kraig Conrad CEO of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA), who conducted the survey. (Federal News Network, January 7, 2020)

According to NCMA, the three major findings from the survey are:

  • The role of the contracting officer is changing
  • The business of contracting is changing.
  • The workforce is changing.

The survey found that respondents are looking to shorten the procurement cycle while giving the Contracting Officer the ability to be less restricted and able to focus on providing solutions as opposed to getting mired in the routine administrative tasks. According to Conrad, the acquisition professional should see their role as a solution maker and not a compliance “police” officer, which ultimately limits the Contracting Officer’s impact. (ibid)

One element that threads itself through all of the findings is the need for top cover from agency executives to allow contracting officers as well as program managers the leeway and freedom to try different things and bring new ideas to the table. Conrad gives the example of the Air Force pitch days, in which 51 contracts were awarded to companies that have little or no experience with the military. The service doled out $3.5 million to those small businesses on a Wednesday — each in 15 minutes or less. The first installments of the companies’ contracts were in their bank accounts almost immediately. (ibid)

Conrad noted, “we heard from a lot of our senior procurement executives that in an environment where they feel they have top cover, the risk aversion conversation is easier to overcome. Otherwise, you will go right back to the same old model where everyone is trying to protect themselves. That top cover really only comes when someone in a leadership structure is not afraid to get in trouble. You run into situations where the senior leadership doesn’t feel they are covered or protected. It will take leaders stepping out and leaning over these challenges to be able to open challenges for their workforce.” (ibid)

Another area of impact on federal acquisition is technology. The survey white paper states “Several senior leaders even described a future in which an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules and regulations will be devalued as artificial intelligence further automates their application to acquisitions or incorporates regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms.” (ibid)

According to Conrad, “we need to get better at how we train into the workforce. Those that have data science understanding need to tell a really good story with data. How are the contracting officers the solution makers? That really comes down to competency. What is those balance of skills that will allow someone to be competent as a business leader in this function? That is one of the areas, because of technology advances, that the technical components will soon be outweighed by the software skill needs.” Conrad feels the “softer skills” include a baseline knowledge of the actual problem/mission, products, and their related markets. (ibid)

Most senior leaders interviewed expect a shift from tactical to strategic work as technology is used for repetitive or routine tasks. It’s expected that many administrative tasks, for example, contract modifications, will become fully automated. Some senior leaders look to AI to further automate regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms. (ibid)

Conrad expects to meet with federal acquisition leaders to discuss the survey results and begin the process of changing the role of the contracting officer.

Wondering if this will affect how you work with a Contracting Officer? Give us a call.

 

Federal Supply Class Review

What happens when the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the General Services Administrations (GSA) get together to increase efficiencies and effectiveness of the national supply chain? You get the first Federal Supply Class (FSC) review in almost 50 years. (Defense Logistics Agency, October 9, 2019)

So why now, you ask? According to Alan Thomas, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, it is to “optimize the movement of supplies to our nation’s troops and reduce duplication in the federal supply chain.”

FSC’s review involves all 600 FSCs, or about seven million items used by federal and military consumers and categorizes them by similarity. This review will reduce redundancies and improve purchasing efficiencies as well as customer readiness and responsiveness. Checks and balances will keep both organizations compliant with principles of their original agreement. (ibid)

The 1971 Supply Management Relationship Agreement between DLA and GSA gave DLA authority over supplies within assigned FSCs used by the military regardless of their use by civil agencies. GSA manages items used by federal agencies that are commercially available. Today GSA and DLA  maintain contracts with vendors delivering directly to customers. DLA forecasts demand and then supply chain representatives, vendors and DLA Distribution ensure on-time delivery worldwide.

DLA and GSA are working side by side to put together an automated tool that categorizes FSCs for analysis. The tool will produce summary-level data on all items to ultimately determine if a change in acquisition strategy might lead to improved efficiencies and effectiveness for the government, taxpayers, and customers. Both DLA and GSA must be in agreement to transfer logistics management of any items.

“Regardless of item transfer decisions, the process and tools we’ve developed in conducting this review provide an archive of information that supports FSC management determinations beyond the simple criteria identified in the 1971 agreement,” Jay Schaeufele, GSA account manager for DLA Logistics Operation’s Whole of Government Division, said. “This information is important as we navigate government and acquisition reform initiatives and evaluate potential economic efficiencies without losing vision of DLA’a first priority to warfighter readiness. (ibid)

Jeff Thurston, director of GSA’s Office of Supply Chain Management, said: “GSA’s new business model challenges us to identify new ways to serve environments where stocking product was previously the go-to solution.” (ibid)

The Commercial Platforms Program will update how commercial products are bought by federal agencies via partnerships with commercial e-platform providers. Government agencies will access commercial platforms as part of a whole-of-government approach. This approach will give agencies visibility into online spending, thus reducing supply-chain risk while providing more time for focusing on mission-oriented acquisition.

According to Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner for Category Management in GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category, “this three-year proof of concept will offer federal buyers easy access to e-marketplace providers and commercial products. Additionally, agencies will have better visibility and insight on purchasing patterns to bring one-off spending under management. The Commercial Platform’s proof of concept offers a way for agencies to access commercial platforms as part of a whole-of-government approach, strengthening GSA’s commitment to maximize the government’s buying power through economies of scale.” (ibid)

GSA and DLA are consolidating purchasing, tracking, and spending analysis while taking advantage of government-wide and best-in-class acquisition vehicles. In addition, they are working together to communicate supply chain issues such as cybersecurity, fraud, and counterfeit parts while working with the military to determine optimal shipping routing.

Will this translate into possible changes to your current contract or bid? We’re available to discuss.