The Important "Same Page" That Is Federal Acquisition - Part 2

December 15, 2021 00:26:40
The Important "Same Page" That Is Federal Acquisition - Part 2
I See What You Mean
The Important "Same Page" That Is Federal Acquisition - Part 2

Dec 15 2021 | 00:26:40

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Show Notes

In Part 2, Tim Cooke and I discuss organizational enablers and constraints acquisition professionals face today; acquisition innovation; and who's thinking about the acquisition of the future when technology convergence creates products and services we can't imagine procuring, today. Here are some of my favorite ahh-ha! moments:

3:26 - The biggest constraint is negative slack. Government acquisition professionals don't have a spare minute in their day.

8:22 - A great example of a program innovation leading to an innovative acquisition.

12:19 and on - Two types of innovations ASI Government supports - process and policy, with examples from the Biden Administration's Management Agenda.

14:54 - ASI Government's "periodic table" of acquisition innovations as a practical tool for contracting officers.

18:55 - Tomorrow's DARPA and the future of acquisition innovation.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:06 Let me ask you this question. It was in a position for about six years when I let a lot of, a lot of Bozel development. I was with an SGB OSB, the teamed a lot as S as, as service disabled veteran owned, small businesses. Do I saw over time, Tim, a very considerable homogenization of method over time. We all shared method with each other so much. The good news was there was a, uh, I think probably a pretty consistent improvement of, of method across, I suppose, from the government side, you would have seen a lot of method, just get better because parties were on the contracting side, we're sharing it with each other and adapting and adopting. What I wondered though, from the government side was it, I think it became harder and harder for an a, for a bidder to, to distinguish an offer from Speaker 2 00:00:57 That's totally true. So we help, we help the government evaluate proposals from time to time, right? So we coach them on like how to discriminate between proposals. That job has gotten really hard, uh, more and more. It's extremely challenging to differentiate the technical proposal, uh, the past performances, you know, whatever it is, and that's described discriminating. And there are some, some company experiences that are discriminating, uh, but not at the task level, right? Not at the, what are you, what are you going to do? The work Speaker 1 00:01:32 Getting done? Right, Speaker 2 00:01:34 Exactly. Speaker 1 00:01:36 So Speaker 2 00:01:37 I wondered if, I mean, I'm a big fan of, of what fed SIM has been doing for the last 25 years, which is they've been doing sort of job interviews for proposals. So you come in with your briefing, you come in with your key people, they get to talk to ask, have a dialogue with the key people. And that's just like a job interview for our company, for our tasks. Speaker 1 00:01:59 Right. I wondered if the situation I described was a contributing factor to government reaching for alternatives to you, send us the proposals. We read them all. We evaluate them for technical price. If at some point they were looking at so many proposals and that were good and generally similar, they had to find ways that they could permit offers to distinguish themselves. And it might be more in the presentations. It might be more in the conversations with Speaker 2 00:02:32 You're. Right. I think you're totally right. Uh, and I think that, you know, the, the job of the acquisition community and government is to find the right match, right? Find the company that is best suited to deliver this. It fits a services contract. There is no better way to make that determination than to get with the people who will be delivering that service. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:02:54 Yeah. I like to think about enablers and constraints. What's helping people get on the same page. What's, what's getting in the way of getting, uh, people getting on the same page. And in this case, let's say let's define being on the same page as what you just said a moment ago, the match between an offer and an, and the government need that looks, we have reason to believe as promising as a means to the end of solving a problem. So what are, what are, what are enablers and constraints you're seeing today? Speaker 2 00:03:26 So the one that seems to be getting slightly harder to work with, uh, is a constraint, which is that the government people in this business had negative slack and by negative slack, I mean, they don't have a spare minute in their day. They are working continuously, uh, for, and people may not believe this, but these are hard jobs that these things have to get done and they have to get done on a schedule or the government can't perform. So there's no slack in the system and they're not enough people or experts. And it's not so much because of the great retirement as it is, because frankly, when it comes to budgeting for positions and, uh, allocating resources to the function of contracting, it, it's hard to make the case. It shouldn't be a person who made the case very successfully recently, uh, is, or whoever's that IRS. Uh, and she was able to garner some additional positions for her function just to, just to relieve some of the stress, you know, of the no slack environment, but organizations don't run well. If they don't have at least a little bit of slack in them, right. If nothing else to absorb the blows, you know, when, when the something Speaker 1 00:04:48 Well, and I knew CEO's who I did some work at a VA where there was a, there was an, uh, an interest at, at, at that time in having a different conversation. That was the, in the early stages of acquisition planning. And I facilitated meetings where a government contracting team sat in a room for a part of a day. Nobody thought it was a bad idea, but I know that while that CEO sat there, there were things she was getting behind on. Right. If she needs to get back, it was men and women, but I was, I'm pick a picture of women who were casinos, who were women in that room who wanted to contribute to that conversation because they knew if they, if that conversation went well, that acquisition planning and process would go better down the road. Right. But at the same time, she's got stuff piling up on her desk. Some of which, as you've said, have hard deadlines, the no slack condition had to prioritize things for them, Tim, they had to address the things that were, it had deadlines that were near term that they, and, and, Speaker 2 00:05:45 And if, and if you don't, you get behind it and then you get further behind. And it's a, it's a, it's a really a sort of death spiral. Um, uh, but I will say this, the best of them can create their own slack. And the way that they do that is, is by starting at the beginning as far upstream, as they can be proactive. Get ahead. The focus on the outcome that you want to get for the program, build the right team, get that team functionally participating together, and you can get stuff done in like record time. It might take two years can get done in five months and you're not behind you're ahead of the curve and you've delivered what the government needs to Flint. Speaker 1 00:06:34 Let me ask you this question on, on, let's talk about innovation a little bit, and I've got an opening question, but I know you've got some things you want to share on the topic. I was involved with you with many others for several years with act Dayak and the innovation activity they did. And I always, I took a, I took a notion of innovation from industry. There was a little bit different. It wasn't in innovation. It was about technology. That's not what the thought was. It was doing something different to create new value for a customer, and then doing something different. Part of the definition or part of the thought was within the business within the organization. So the organization did something different. The idea of Tim was a business was set up and running today to deliver today's value to today's customer, wherever that was, if it wanted to create new value, it had to do some things inside of its or operations that were different to innovate. Speaker 1 00:07:34 Okay. That's hard. It's not an easy thing to do, but I, but I, when I thought about that in government, I thought the folks that really need to be thinking differently, innovating are in the programs, but I saw all the pressure put on the CEO to innovate. And I thought it was a bit of a mismatch here. The CEO or the contracting community could possibly do some process improvements and do some innovative things in terms of the contract actions. But the real innovation is that the government needed to solve problems would have been with the programs. And I didn't see those program folks. And I, and I might've missed it. I didn't see many of the program, folks thinking that way with the CEO. Maybe I tell me if that was wrong or maybe it's different today. Speaker 2 00:08:22 So I'd love to share with you an example from our experience, which has the property that is very different thinking, uh, was brought to bear by the program. People in this case, uh, the program was to support the victims of floods with a proper amount of insurance, uh, and diversify the risk away from the us taxpayer and the treasury to the private sector professionals who do risk management for a living. Okay. So that's like, how do we, how do we take this away from government and give it to some pros, uh, okay. By the services of the very cool of the re-insurance industry and the marketplace that deals with that and bring that stuff into government. Speaker 1 00:09:08 Very cool. Say a little bit about the, the, how the program was at FEMA, HUD, the program, folks get to that. We get to there. Speaker 2 00:09:16 So, um, I'm not sure if they had any sort of outside advice, but at some point along the way, and we're supporting the folks at FEMA, uh, at that time in this program, the thought came up. The one way to diversify this risk is to go to the re-insurance market. We've never bought that as a government because the us government has never bought re-insurance services, right? How the heck would we do that? And so that we were involved at that point, it wasn't our idea to do that. But once the idea was on the table, we, we helped to vet the idea and paved the way to the actual procurement of those services. Speaker 1 00:09:57 I've always thought I want to, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the, the, the innovation work that ASI government is supporting, but I want to say this. I don't think that most Americans, citizens think of government as innovative. And I think that's a mistake. I think that government is one of the most innovative, any government, federal, state, or local, one of the even special purpose jurisdiction, some of the most innovative entities around because there was a time when every government program solved a tough public policy problem that had not been solved. That's the definition of innovation. You're going to do something different to create new value for a customer. In this case, the customers or citizens and other, other U S entities government has always had to be highly innovative to do with the job that government exists to do. What happens in government happens in industry, you set up a program, you, your aim becomes to run the program efficiently. Speaker 1 00:11:01 That's not the same thing as innovation. That is the same. That is what companies want to run. And we all want our view of you. You're the CEO, right? You want to run ASI government efficiently. If you didn't, you could go out of business. It's so hard for any operation, any organization to meet the efficiency objectives of daily operations at the same time, continue to innovate, to provide new value for existing, but also future customers. It's tough to do. And I think government deserves more credit for the way it attempts to do that and, and, and, and succeeds at doing that, that, but look, the truth is government when it does its job was hidden. You don't even see what it's done. That's just the truth. You don't turn on the tap and worry about anything bad coming out of that, generally, because government's doing his job. You don't get on an airplane and worry about a wing fallen off the government's N N N air commercial are doing their job. So I just always thought that government deserves more credit for innovation. I know that innovation and acquisition has been a big focus of governments for some time. And if yours, what are some of the, what are some of the leading edge things you're working on these days to help with governance, acquisition innovation? Speaker 2 00:12:19 Process-wise, uh, there's a difference between process and sort of directed energy if you will, uh, target based. So process-wise, you know, w what I've been working on has been with act Hayak, and it's been about really sharing the best innovations across government, the things that people have done and found successful, and, and we've gathered up many dozens of these, uh, from both a business of acquisition, as well as labor saving technology. Right? So one of the ways to get out of that, no slack environment is to create slack by having technology substitute for knowledge work. Right. Right. So technology can do the administrative work without much issue and very fast. Right. So we had experience of going from two years of human work to three days of computer work. Yeah. Oh my gosh, it's amazing stuff. And it alleviates all of that. My numbing, if you have any, uh, doing the same thing over and over. Speaker 2 00:13:21 So, so that's, that's what that's sort of a broadly horizontal perspective, as opposed to the issues of cyber and, and, uh, climate. And, you know, the other things that, that, uh, are the priorities, these days of the administration. I love the cyber challenge. And one of the things that I love about it is it's so hard. Okay, we do this, we do these things. Not because they're easy, but because they're hard things, somebody said that one time about the space, about the Apollo program, right. We're going to the moon. And I love the cyber mission because it's really hard from an acquisition perspective. The cyber business is like an arms race, where there are new weapons showing up every day. And you've got to figure out not only how to buy the best sets available today, but how to create the technologies that you need for the future. Be part of that process, generally driven by venture capitalists, generally driven by private equity, right? Like creating new stuff. That's, uh, a very different approach to a very challenging mission. And, you know, we've had the experience of, of having to deploy other transactions for, for cyber organizations like the, like the army, for example, because they're very flexible and they can accommodate new and changing technologies as needed. So that's stuff I love as well. Speaker 1 00:14:50 Two questions. Tell me about the periodic table of acquisition innovations. Speaker 2 00:14:54 Does that capture some of these? It totally does by design, uh, and, uh, at, uh, in collaboration with the office of federal procurement policy and the chief acquisition officers, uh, council designed that table too, if you think of the normal periodic table rows and columns of elements, uh, this one, the, the columns of activities are, uh, by the lifecycle and then there, so there's a bunch of them that are within the federal acquisition regulations, sort of what is expected to be done. The activities ranging from a acquisition strategy to market research, to, you know, uh, RFP development, uh, award, and then post award administration, by the way, postal ward administration is far more important than people get credit for. We spend a lot of all of our time thinking about contract formation, oh my gosh, like 80% plus is just in the administration of those contracts. And we're getting there with the table, but it's not, it's not very full yet to the left of the table are the non-farm authorities that the government has things like OTs and challenges and problem statements that aren't governed necessarily by the rules of the far. And so if people [email protected], backslash periodic dash table, and see what's there, it's, it's, it's growing, uh, month to month, uh, if not week to week. Speaker 1 00:16:30 And the idea of being too at the intersections of the row of the columns and the rows you were filling in things that a CEO could do, Speaker 2 00:16:39 Actual examples of what people have done. So a description of a I'll call it a description of a problem, but it's like contact context, right? For an actual procurement, the documents that were used in the actual procurement. So you can download the documents that IRS used for its pilot, IRS challenges. You can see what it looks like and how you could tailor it for your own purpose. Speaker 1 00:17:06 Um, that's a great tool. That's a great tool, contracting officers who have a tough job, it's increasingly difficult with zero or negative slack, need a place to turn to, to get something quickly. Right. And so it's that, those, those, that's the kind of tool that they need to help them try something different. Otherwise they all only can do what they've done before, which they might even not want it, they might not want to do, but if they're constrained, it's like, I just gotta do what I got to do. Speaker 2 00:17:35 Yeah. So that's another version of on the same page, I'm just going to do what I've always done. Speaker 1 00:17:40 That's true. But Speaker 2 00:17:42 This is a thing where, you know, if I'm having an, a question or an issue in a certain step of the contracting process, it's market research, and I want to find out how to do it better. I can go to that place. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:17:55 It's nice. And probably could find somebody to talk to somewhere to go. That's nice. Yeah. That's nice. Um, that, uh, you know, the periodic table itself has the same page. You're kind of getting people on that same page with its, with its, with its construction, our world's changing just so fast government missions, especially core government missions. I think become more important over time. Who's looking not very far out, but who's, who's got the eye, who's got the eye on the horizon and who's having the conversation today about what will the acquisition community do when the world changes so much that you have to ask yourselves is the FARA. David, can we keep doing what we've been doing? Do we have to really radically change what we've been doing? I don't think we need to, but who's having the conversation. And what's it sound like they're looking out far enough to say as technologies converge and we find things we can't even, we live with things we can't even imagine today. How will government function from the acquisition standpoint? Speaker 2 00:18:55 So there's some of us, uh, affectionately call ourselves virtuous insurgence, right? And we think about these things and I have some fairly smart colleagues, uh, who are dedicated to that kind of a mission. And those insurgents are less like scattered everywhere. They're just like individuals who care and they want to do something. But DARPA is a great example of thinking about a different world, 10, 20 years from now, how do we prepare the government for that? What capabilities do we need? And these are the guys. I mean, they have learned how by really putting preeminence on the program manager to create whole new industries through their acquisition business. It's, it's amazing what they've done. Speaker 1 00:19:47 Fascinating. Speaker 2 00:19:49 It's just amazing. Uh, and so now you have the explosion of arepas, right? You've got RPE Arco for energy at DOE. You've got a proposed ARPA H for health within, uh, da uh, HHS. Uh, there's there, I think it's got eliminated from the bill, but there was the notion of an RPC for climate also potentially to live at DOE. So the ARPA meme is out there. And to some degree that meme will propagate across the government. As folks begin to consider the question that you just asked, how do we get ready for the future? That was the defense department's answer to, how do we get ready for the future? It worked really, really well, unreasonably. Well, it should never have worked as much as it did Speaker 1 00:20:44 Another great government innovation story. Speaker 2 00:20:47 Absolutely. Speaker 1 00:20:49 That's great to hear. I've been away from the acquisition community for a few years. And I didn't know if this sort of development, if that's what we can call it, that's great to hear it because just like, well, look, Tim, this is not different than what you already have described, which was in the earlier time of the last 20 or 30 years, you had individuals who said we have to do things better. And, and we, we shouldn't, there's reasons. We shouldn't be afraid of the edges of the box. We got to get closer to the edge of the box in a smart way. And here's how we're going to do it. And those individuals over time, as they led that, and you name some names of people who did others watched, what you just described to me sounds parallel. If you've got some folks who were stand up in an ARPA, a loosely knit group, maybe it's chartered. Maybe it's not. If they're thinking about those future questions saying, we've got to be ready, they'll lead the thinking. And as they act, others will watch and then there'll be some gravitation in, in, in their, in their direction. Government's a huge operation. You can't expect it to be very nimble, but you've got people like that who were staying out on that leading edge saying, we got to keep thinking about this because it's coming at us, Speaker 2 00:22:06 It's parallel in many ways, uh, to the, um, to the replication of the pill meme, right? The procurement innovation lab was so successful that it turned into a meme. It turned into a thing that other people wanted to try. Yeah. And that's what happens, uh, both with DARPA and with the HS pill and it's underway right now. What's so exciting is I'm getting to live through this. This is generational. You know, that you can go back a long, long way and not see anything like this. Speaker 1 00:22:42 Yeah. I get one of those things that an average citizens never going to know, but if this is what's needed to have the government, we want to, to, to, to, to deliver the, the, the democracy of the public policy that we expect, we've been talking for quite a while. We could probably talk for quite a while more. Is there something you wanted to talk about that we really haven't dug very deep into Speaker 2 00:23:02 The raw dedication and talent of the people who are in the government who are getting this done, and our colleagues across the aisle in gov, in industry who are helping, who are partnering, who are collaborating, who are instigating, catalyzing all for the benefit of the nation, all for the benefit of, you know, countering those threats that we have from our adversaries, countering the threat of climate change, you know, co countering and, and, and actually promoting on the positive side, a whole bunch of things that relate to a space, for example, and, and the use of space. And so I, you know, I've got tremendous respect for these folks. They have really hard jobs on both sides of the aisle. And, uh, and they do a great job and they do it for the country. Speaker 1 00:23:54 I like that it is a hard job every day. These folks have nuts and bolts job to get done that consumes their day. And the negative slack comes from not getting enough, done that day. I mean, means you don't get enough done that day that you had to get done. And yet I always saw in government that the, the passion that you described, the commitment to a mission, um, and sometimes it's a particular organizational mission. Sometimes it's broader mission in a sense, we've talked about it. We could do this better, this being a big thing like acquisition, could we do a particular acquisition better? Of course, but we're talking about acquisition, like big a capital act. Can we do acquisitions better? What would that mean? What would that look like? And these folks talking to each other, working with each other, trying things at some personal risk and not just that individual, like I say, it's, uh, um, contracting specialists or CEO. They've got a chain of command they're working in Speaker 2 00:24:55 Other people they're working with. And so there's, Speaker 1 00:24:57 There's real risks. And yet, uh, and I, but I yet, I, I always saw that commitment that you've, you've mentioned. And I'm glad you mentioned it because I think it really is what drives people to get the job done. They've got to do that day and to come back the next day, they try to do it better. Speaker 2 00:25:16 Yeah, absolutely. There's a mistaken impression that it said administrative work. It's not, it's completely thought driven creative problem solving work. Yeah, you're right. Speaker 1 00:25:28 There's administrative aspects to it, but you're right there. The job itself is really what you just described. Well, Tim, as always, when we talk, I learned a lot from you and you're also very inspiring. I enjoyed this, I enjoyed our conversation. Speaker 2 00:25:42 Thank you, Lou. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you, uh, and to have this conversation, uh, you know, I, uh, I enjoy it and, uh, certainly would look forward to a future. Speaker 1 00:25:52 You're passionate about it, you know, but we could do too, is bring someone into the conversation. We could bring a contracting executive into the conversation. Yeah. Speaker 2 00:26:01 That's an interesting thought. We'd have to find somebody willing to get near the edge of, Speaker 1 00:26:06 We might know a few. Thank you, my friend. I enjoyed it and appreciate your time. Very Speaker 2 00:26:10 Much. Appreciate it. Speaker 1 00:26:13 Bye-bye bye-bye and that's how we see it. My friends, I'm going to thank Tim for recording both episodes with me. You can find them at, I see what you mean dot Castro's dot com. Plus all the usual places, send questions and suggestions through your app. Subscribe and give me a five-star rating unless you can't. In which case, let me know why and join me next week. When we take another look at how to get on the same page and stay there, unless we shouldn't.

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