Every now and again, I get invited to appear on the Federal Countdown, hosted by Francis Rose, Friday afternoons from 3pm to 4pm on WFED radio.
The focus of the show is to have two guests select their three most important stories about the Federal Government. The third most important article is discussed by each guest individually. Then both comment on the two selected second-most and first-most (first-most or just most?) important stories of the week.
Yesterday John Salamone, who is a managing consultant at Federal Management Partners, were the guests. I thought I would provide a brief summary of the three articles I brought in this entry.
The audio for the session is posted on the WFED web-site at:
GSA Can’t Verify Cloud Email Savings, IG Says (third most important)
At a top level this was a pretty standard story, the GSA Inspector General did an audit on how successful the Cloud implementation was at GSA. As I used to say at the US Department of Transportation, the IG has to find something, submitting blank reports would not go over very well.
In this case, among other issues the IG found that GSA had difficulty in showing how much they saved and in measuring how successful the project was. GSA agreed with the findings and committed to providing additional information.
Personally I am big believer in much of the cloud-based projects being implemented by the Federal Government, perceive Casey Coleman as doing a great job as the CIO at GSA, and thus the audit results themselves were not the reason I selected the article.
In my opinion, one of the big issues that will resonant more loudly during the next four-years regardless of who wins the election will be a push to change the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness.
Let me explain what I mean by that last sentence.
When I talk about efficiency I mean how well a project gets from Point A to Point B. If the plan called for X tasks, costing $Y dollars and scheduled to take Z days; did it in fact take at least approximately those projected resource investments.
When I talk about effectiveness I mean after having gotten to Point B, does the resulting project achieve its goals. Of course that presupposes that the people answering this last question all generally agree upon the goals, which is naturally the actual hard part.
The article demonstrates the continuing focus of the Government on improving efficiency, made even more important because of the budget pressures that are increasingly on everyone’s mind. The reality is however that the ability to get things done is almost always tied to the impact on the mission.
What was interesting to me is that a discussion of the GSA mission and how this effort impacted on that mission didn’t seem to be a focus (at least of the article).
Big Data Gauntlet Thrown Down For Agencies (second most important)
As I joked during the discussion, it feels that if OMB was to give an award for fastest movement from buzz-word to implementation, Big Data would be the likely winner.
The article discusses how NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department have issued a “Bid Data Challenge’ to come up with initiatives that involve the use of Big Data. The effort is being coordinated by the Big Data Senior Steering Committee, which is part of a program within NSF.
I will write this coming week about my take on what Big Data is and its implications so will not take time here to discuss these topics.
The important point I wanted to make with the article was that the collection, sharing and provisioning of data is in fact inherently part of the mission of many if not most of all Federal Agencies. It is this strong tie between the technology and the mission that has given the effort such power and the driving force that fuels the activity going on.
The reality is that if there is not a strong tie between an initiative and the organizational mission, no matter how useful and valuable the initiative impact could be, the likelihood of continuing support is not high.
Industry Resists Government’s Push For Low Prices (most important)
My most important article of the week dealt with Federal Acquisition policies.
In the end, none of the initiatives and priorities are of great value if it is easy to procure the resources, services and products needed to implement the initiative. The current situation remains troubling.
We have gotten to the point where when planning for large procurements, business development teams add a couple of months as part of their formal process assuming there will be a protest.
The acquisition staff is overworked and often overwhelmed with the work, the FAR is lengthy and complex, and it is very difficult to successfully run a procurement without making at least some kind of human mistake. Their job is difficult in the best of times. This is not the best of times.
The result is that there is a tendency to move acquisition along a path that is simplest and hard to protest, even if that path results in an acquisition which is not advantageous to the Government.
This article focuses on one of these options, where the Department of Defense has moved from what are called “best-value” procurements to “lowest price technically acceptable” (LPTA).
In the former, the process is to select what offer provides the highest value balancing cost against that incremental value. This can often be a complicated and subjective decision process and thus is more likely to result in complaints, protests and procurement delays; though if done well often can provide the best solution for the Government.
The latter involves determining which bids meet the minimum technical requirements and then selecting the least cost of the qualified bids, regardless of the relative value above the minimum.
The article discusses how the Professional Services Council, represented by Stan Soloway, the President and CEO of the Council, said that DoD was more often really doing just the LP part (low-price) and not paying attention to the technical requirements at all. He also said that in some cases a best-value approach would be better.
I pointed out that going to an LPTA, and in particular, using the LP part is a logical result of the current environment. Low price is purely math, it is hard to protest against a mathematical result.
I suspect that people outside of the Federal Acquisition process do not realize how good a job that acquisition staff actually do under the circumstances, but I suspect without significant rethinking of the underlying process and associated regulations, these kinds of complaints will only increase.