Speaking truth to empower, and collaborating around lessons learned – that is the idea behind the Front Line Forum.
First conceived back during the Clinton administration, the meetings brings together procurement specialists from across government to discuss a wide range of challenges and solutions.
Dan Gordon, the administrator for federal procurement policy at Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), revived the Front Line Forum so that he could connect directly with contracting officers and contract specialists across government.
“They come here to Washington to the White House complex and they give us, and frankly they give me as the administrator, a chance to hear what’s on people’s minds, a chance to see if our messages are actually reaching the front lines.” Gordon told Federal News Radio.
There have been three forums so far, the last one taking place early this week. It brought together procurement experts from 36 agencies ranging from the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation. Gordon said they were able to share “concrete examples” of how policy is reaching those in the field.
I heard example after examples of agencies across the federal government where people are saying – In our shop we’ve made real progress in improving competition, in my agency we’re working hard to get away from sole source contracts, or in my agency we’re very concerned that we have too many time and material contracts and we’re working towards fixed price. Those are exactly the initiatives that we’re pushing from OMB so the word is getting out to the people on the front line.
Some of the other topics discussed at the forum included the challenges facing Contracting Officer Technical Representatives (COTR).
They talked about the signs of improvement that they’re seeing recently, but the ongoing challenges with improving that position, strengthening that position, being sure that we have people that have the time to be COTRs, that have the training to be COTRs, that have the links with the contracting officers and with the program shops to make that role work, because that is critical…as everybody knows those COTRs are the eyes and ears of the contracting officer.
Gordon said the forum also had a healthy discussion about Service Contract Inventories, which track the fed to contractor ratio. While it can be a challenge, Gordon said it is also an opportunity.
“We think these inventories can be helpful when we want to do a thoughtful analysis of what we’re using contractors for and where we might be using contractors too much,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure that we have enough internal capacity that we’re managing and that we’re maintaining taking control of our mission and operations.”
Gordon also told Federal news Radio that OFPP is almost the end of a series of AcqStat sessions. They are similar to the TechStat sessions that chief technology officers went through to fix troubled IT projects. The AcqStat sessions bring together the 24 largest agencies to review progress on the administration’s acquisitions goals.
Gordon said they’re talking to the agencies about, “they’re successes in their acquisition and but also their challenges. That means focusing on how they’re doing with the acquisition workforce, how they’re doing with strategic sources, with reducing the use of sole source contracts and moving away from time and material and costs reimbursement contracts…they are frank discussions in which we are working in a collaborative way with the agencies to understand their issues and help them move forward.”