Treasury Department Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia said he’s upbeat about what small businesses could offer the agency as it looks to adapt to the changing technology landscape.
“The intellectual capital and the knowledge [small businesses] bring to the equation is really a competitive advantage,” he said.
Bhagowalia spoke during a small business outreach meeting Wednesday at the Treasury Department, where he and a number of procurement officials discussed what the agency is looking to contract for in coming years. Since assuming the CIO role last October, Bhagowalia has been pushing Treasury and its more than $3.5 billion IT portfolio to evolve “in the context of a changing world.”
“In just 60 years [of computing], we have advanced so far that technology is happening so fast that we have to [change] very, very quickly,” he said. “We are looking for small business and the innovation that you bring.”
There are four areas Bhagowalia said he is concentrating on within the department’s portfolio: architecture function, app development, human resources lines of business and shared services. The latter two go hand in hand, as half of the 240,000 Treasury network users come from 35 different government agencies that use Treasury human resources platforms.
“IT is almost in everything that I do,” he said. “Even though there is $3.8 billion in [the IT budget] alone, IT is embedded in” other business processes.
One place Bhagowalia would like to see small businesses concentrate their efforts is in cybersecurity, where he said the department is trying to move to a “more proactive cybersecurity posture versus a compliance-oriented posture.” He stressed that these postures, born out of security compliance measures, are being heavily watched as they consider new contract awards.
“You have to look at the entire balance of Clinger-Cohen competencies, [the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act], [the Federal Information Security Management Act] and all of these laws that we have to comply with,” he said. “This acquisition competency is something we are paying attention to.”
Another aspect that is getting more attention is the concept of “lowest price, technically acceptable,” LPTA for short, that can often hinder small businesses’ ability to compete on contracts.
However, like the evolution of technology, some small businesses see the tide turning when it comes to LPTA. Brian Nault, CEO of Bluewater Federal, said during a panel discussion that he sees “best value” buys coming back to the government, as agencies continue to spend money to fix problems with contracts that fit the LPTA model.
Rajesh Sharma, CEO of Censeo Consulting Group, agreed that the government is “coming out of the rabbit hole” of LPTA. “It’s great to spend less money up front, but then you are spending to solve the same problems,” Sharma said. “It doesn’t help anybody and we are not solving problems.”
The apparent frustration with LPTA doesn’t solely reside with small business owners. Iris Cooper, Treasury’s senior procurement executive, said she doesn’t personally believe in the concept.
“I think we can’t find innovation with LPTA,” Cooper said. “The two are in conflict somewhere. I think we have to continue to suffer through this and get to the other end, where we recognize that when you start buying innovative thoughts and the people that have those, you are not going to get a low cost.”
In the meantime, Bhagowalia said he would try to be quick to let the public know about future contract openings. According to the Federal Procurement Data System, there will be between $7 billion and $8 billion in Treasury contracts available between October 2014 and Dec. 31, 2017, with between 62 to 147 of those contracts related to IT.