Couples Counseling: Feds and Contractors Need to Learn to Communicate on IT Contracts

Photo: Andrew Brown

Following Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra’s announcement of sweeping new changes to federal IT management, how will the Office of Management and Budget make these efforts stick?

One thing is clear: The reforms require the partnership of industry and the private sector to succeed, and to do that, the feds and their partner companies need to work on their communication issues.

So said Dan Gordon, administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, who joined Kundra in a Q&A session following the CIO’s presentation.

Gordon has been tasked with leading a “myth busters” campaign to clear up some of the confusion surrounding federal IT contracts, part of efforts to engage with the private sector more.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the fact that many in the government are fearful of talking to companies because they think could lead to bid protests or accusations of unfairness.

But Gordon wasn’t having any of it.

“We’ve got to get past that, folks,” he said.

Gordon said it makes no sense for government contract offices not to be in communication with companies as agencies post request-for-proposals. RFPs are often vague, he said, and companies sit around board meetings playing guessing games, trying to figure out what exactly the government wants.

Often, an award is based solely on the initial proposal with little communication. With no discussions, “we’re leaving money on the table,” he said incredulously.

Dan Gordon, OFPP; Photo:

Kundra and Gordon are also banking on another aspect of OMB’s federal IT strategy to help loosen government tongues.

OMB and OFPP will launch a new, online interactive platform to help foster collaboration at all contracting stages.

If nothing else, it will make government motives clear, Kundra said.

“We need to be crystal clear about what our requirements are, and crystal clear when something isn’t working,” he added.

Gordon looked out at the audience and said it was emblematic of the connections that need to be forged in contracting: between government and industry, from the program shops and IT fields to contracting offices.

“We’ve got be integrating from day one,” he added.

The answer, Gordon said, echoing earlier remarks by Kundra, doesn’t lie in extending any new authorities but simply returning to the basics.

“We need to take advantage of the flexibilities we have,” he said.

It’s not a matter of new regulations or new statues, he added.

“We need communication,” he said. “We need it early, and we need it often.”

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