OMB plans to bust IT contracting myths

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

Federal IT acquisition workers can expect new training in 2011 – some of it mandatory — on exactly what they can and can’t talk about with prospective vendors.

The impetus for the new guidance is what the Office and Management and Budget officials sees as too little communication between agencies and IT contractors in the phase before agencies submit a formal request for proposals.

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra said Thursday the training is a myth-busting campaign, part of OMB’s overall effort to reform federal IT.


“There are a number of myths that have been propagated over the years, where people believe you can’t talk to the industry, or people believe that when you’re down-selecting you can’t sit down with the vendors and try to negotiate the optimal contract,” Kundra said at a briefing in Washington, D.C., about the administration’s 25-point reform strategy. “People believe all sorts of things that actually lead to RFPs that seem like they were written in the 1980s because people haven’t had conversations with the industry over the years.”

Bob Dix, a former senior congressional staff member now with Juniper Networks, said the problem is not a figment of OMB’s imagination.

“What I’ve seen on a firsthand basis is a total reticence for fear of what the ramifications might be,” he said. “So I think that’s real, and I think it’s regular, and I think it’s something that really needs to be addressed in a meaningful way, because we’re not learning from one another. As a result of that, people go back to what they know as opposed to looking for best value, looking for innovation, looking for ways to achieve the mission on behalf of the taxpayer.”

One IT industry representative in attendance at OMB’s rollout of the plan assigned blame for the closed communication channels to agency ethics officials and inspectors general.

“It’s their mission to scare people into not communicating,” said Paul Brubaker, a senior director for Cisco Systems, asking Kundra at the briefing whether OMB had a plan to overcome that hurdle. “We need to work with the Office of Government Ethics, we need to work with the attorneys and we can meet with the IGs as well if need be,” said Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. “We have got to have our people be comfortable with using authorities they already have to listen to industry without giving anybody an unfair advantage. We can do this.”

OMB plans to issue a memo in January identifying what it believes are the most pervasive myths about talking to vendors during the acquisition process, according to a document outlining the reform program. That process will include consultations with industry figures, agency program managers and contracting officials, and their ethics staffs.

OMB will spend much of 2011 presenting the awareness campaign to agencies, using webinars, presentations at government management conferences and a mandatory online training program.

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