This week’s final April blog post addresses the last and most important of the four fundamentals underpinning an efficient and effective procurement system, sound requirements development. Sound requirements development is vital to delivering best value outcomes for government and the taxpayer. Sound requirements development increases competition and creates the framework for efficient and effective contractor performance. It is a fundamental commercial practice. The Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA) Acquisition Advisory Panel found that,

Commercial organizations invest the time and resources necessary to understand and define requirements. They use multidisciplinary teams to plan their procurements, conduct competitions for award, and monitor contract performance. They rely on well-defined requirements and competitive awards to reduce prices and obtain innovative, high quality goods and services. Procurements with clear requirements are far more likely to meet customer needs and be successful in execution.

See the Report of the Acquisition Advisory Panel to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the United States Congress, at page 87.

The current focus on oversight and transparency as the perceived cure all for the procurement system misses the mark. Oversight and transparency initiatives focus on the post award environment. As such, audit and new contractor reporting regimes merely produce data regarding ongoing contract performance. On the other hand, successful contract performance is fundamentally contingent on what has come before—requirements development, competition, negotiation and award of contracts. Sound requirements effectively communicated to industry reduce risk in contractor performance. Reduced risk leads to more efficient and effective contractor performance and pricing.

If the government (Congress and the Administration) really want to improve contract outcomes and save the taxpayer money, sound requirements development is the key. Make no mistake, it is not easy. Creating a government infrastructure that delivers sound requirements development will take discipline, sustained effort, time, training and investment to improve government requirements development. It will not grab headlines, but it will make a positive difference for government, industry and the taxpayer.

At the Coalition’s Spring Conference, Shay Assad, Director of Pricing, Department of Defense (DoD), discussed DoD’s training of program managers and the critical role of requirements development. The Coalition strongly supports DoD’s ongoing work in improving requirements development. Along these lines, the Coalition supports the creation of a center of excellence for market research, requirements development and acquisition planning within the General Services Administration (GSA). This center of excellence would leverage government resources and provide support to customer agencies using GSA contract vehicles to meet their needs.

Finally, as you know from previous blog posts, the Coalition strongly supports the Administration’s efforts to improve government-industry communications via the “Myth-Busters” campaign. Central to the “Myth-Busters” campaign is the imperative of effective communication between government and industry during the requirements development phase. Effective government-industry communications improve SOWs, RFQs and RFPs which, in turn, leads to increased competition and positive contract performance. As OFPP’s February 2, 2011 memorandum observed,

Access to current market information is critical for agency program managers as they define requirements and for contracting officers as they develop acquisition strategies, seek opportunities for small business, and negotiate contract terms. Our industry partners are often the best source of this information, so productive interactions between federal agencies and our industry partners should be encouraged to ensure that the government clearly understands the marketplace and can award a contract or order for an effective solution at a reasonable price. Early, frequent and constructive engagement with industry is especially important for complex, high-risk procurements, including (but not limited to) those for large information technology (IT) projects.

Industry exhibits at the upcoming GSA Expo are an excellent source of market information for agency program managers. The Expo also provides over 12,000 hours of professional training for government and industry contracting professionals.

The Coalition looks forward to continuing our “Myth-Busters” dialogue with GSA, the VA, OFPP and DoD regarding key procurement issues, including the challenge of sound requirements development. To that end, the upcoming May 4th blog post will highlight the Coalition’s “to do” list resulting from the acquisition dialogue during last week’s Spring Conference.