Collaboration key in buying IT, acquisition officials say

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Interagency and public-private collaboration is key to competitive and innovative IT procurements, a pair of federal acquisition officials said Tuesday.

“The acquisition process is really the process between the requirements and the vendor community. And what we’re trying to do in that role is increase the amount of communication between the requiring people — the engineers, the technicians — and the vendors who supply the requirements, so there’s a better understanding of what we need,” said Bill Weinberg, director of acquisition management for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Weinberg told an audience at Brocade’s 2016 Federal Forum that without open and transparent dialogue with industry, agencies tend to live in the past with their requirements, over-prescribing solicitations based on what they’ve done historically.

“We’re trying to push the requirements to be defined in a way that requires a solution to be provided [by vendors] and not an over-prescribed set of steps that a vendor would take to satisfy a requirement,” he said.

“Too often, the government puts a requirement out that says, ‘Here’s our problem, we know what the solution is, we need somebody to do it.’ … Then we find out a year or two later that isn’t what we really wanted.” 

Weinberg said this is something DHS is promoting in procurement offices in all of its component agencies.

Federal contracting officers can also improve IT acquisition by collaborating with their peers in other agencies, said Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services in General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, who joined Weinberg on the panel. 

A prime example of this interagency collaboration, Davie said, is GSA’s $503 million Salesforce blanket purchase agreement, which allows agencies share and reuse application code that vendors on the BPA have already developed for other federal customers through a collaboration portal called GSA Labs.

[Read more: The fruits of GSA’s $503M Salesforce contract are in reuse]

“That’s where the innovation piece comes in — how can communication and collaboration, just talking to each other and sharing information, help drive smarter government,” said Davie, who made FedScoop’s list of D.C.’s Top 50 Women in Tech for 2016

The federal Acquisition Gateway, operated by GSA, is a model for this type of interagency procurement collaboration, serving as an online repository and portal for federal personnel to explore existing acquisition information and solutions, collaborate on best practices, and make more effective and efficient buying decisions around the practice of category management. Officials behind the gateway hope it will have 10,000 federal users by the year’s end.

But the idea of sharing doesn’t always occur naturally in government, Weinberg said — and it can often prevent agencies from drawing health competition to their procurements.

“The less openness and transparency, the less we can compete,” he said. 

“We’re trying to modernize that process, and we realize we don’t know even all the parameters of the problem, but if we talk to industry — the people who are solving these problems in the commercial world or for other agencies — we may be able to define the problem a little better and get a better solution.” 

Contact the reporter on this story via email at Billy.Mitchell@FedScoop.com or follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop to get all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning at fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Agencies, Bill Weinberg, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, General Services Administration (GSA), Government IT News, Mary Davie, Procurement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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