Newsletter Welcome

The Acquisition Research Program publishes a weekly email newsletter, Need to Know, in which we highlight key developments in acquisition, policy, government innovation, and research—as well as the latest news about ARP events and research. We hope you enjoy the newsletter, and let us know if you are doing work we can highlight in future issues. 

To subscribe, please send us an email

Looking for an old newsletter? Browse previous issues

Newsletter 6.18.2021

June 18, 2021                                                                                            Issue 59

As DoD pivots to focus on China, the role of Naval forces is taking center stage in conversations about budget, the national defense strategy, policy, and upcoming confirmation hearings for Carlos Del Toro, nominated to be the next Secretary of the Navy. This week’s NATO summit has yielded new agreements that the organization will respond to attacks in space and cybersecurity. It also declared China a global security challenge.

In Congress, markup of the FY 2022 NDAA will begin July 28, with a break for August recess. The amended NDAA may include the recent House-approved proposal to repeal the 2002 Authorization of the Use of Military Force. Budget hearings continue next week, with appearances from Austin and Milley. This week also brings new policy documents announcing the unified regulatory agenda and continuing efforts to shore up domestic supply chains.

In acquisition, federal purchasing of consumption-based solutions is getting closer to having a standard process. Federal contracting boomed in 2020, but small businesses are starting to get edged out by best-in-class contracts meant to save money through category management. This week’s ARP research reveals flaws in systems meant to hold contractors accountable for past performance. Watch the video and read her thesis for full findings and recommendations.

Finally, we’ve got a bonus article for those who want to understand why they just got today off for Juneteenth. Happy Freedom Day!

 

This Week’s Top Story

GSA set to alter cloud buying landscape with new policy
Jason Miller, Federal News Network

After almost two-and-a-half years of work, the General Services Administration is about ready to unleash a new way to buy cloud services.

GSA released its second draft policy to industry in May that would let agencies buy cloud services “by the drink” through the schedule contract.

A second draft policy created by Jeff Koses, GSA’s senior procurement executive, outlines how this buying approach would work under the schedule contract, including not requiring the Price Reduction Clause, which mandates vendors give the government their lowest price at all times, and what type of contract and how the funding would work.

“GSA anticipates purchasing cloud computing on a consumption basis will increase competition, as the move towards commercial practices will encourage new entrants to the FSS program,” Koses wrote in the draft policy, which Federal news Network obtained. “With a contract structure more closely tied to real time demand, this approach also provides greater flexibility to take advantage of technology improvements and better support cyber security. Tying cloud computing procurements to commercial market prices will also provide cost transparency without burdening contractors with additional transactional price reporting requirements. Plus, this approach promotes cost efficiency as it reduces the need to lock into long term contracts in markets where falling prices are reasonably anticipated.”

Read more.

 

ARP and NPS News

Student Research Video: Impact Analysis of DFARS 252.242.7005 on Contractor Business System Approval

NPS student Symantha Loflin explored the impact to the government, contractor, and warfighter of the implementation of Better Buying Power Initiative 3.0 and more stringent government oversight of contractors. This research details significant deficiencies of the process.

How Long Does It Take to Award a Government Contract? Understanding PALT Time Frames with Big Data Analytics
David I. Gill and Timothy G. Hawkins

From research presented at this year’s symposium. The purpose of this research is threefold: (1) to understand the drivers of procurement administrative lead time (PALT), (2) to identify opportunities to reduce PALT, and (3) to predict when specific requirements are likely to be awarded. These analyses will be performed using newly available, government-wide data for over 5 million federal contracts.

Note that Larry’s “Tips and Tools” also discusses PALT.

Today NPS holds its spring quarter graduation ceremony at 1000 PT. Watch online.

A total of 364 U.S. and international military officers, and DOD civilians, completed their studies this quarter. The Spring Quarter class includes 152 U.S. Navy graduates; 77 U.S. Marine Corps graduates; 39 U.S. Army graduates; 17 U.S. Air Force graduates; 53 DOD civilian graduates; 1 U.S. Space Force, 1 U.S. Navy Reservist; 1 U.S. Army Reservist; and 23 international graduates representing 15 countries.

 

Acquisition and Innovation

Contraction of small business contractors: What’s prompting the drop?
Jonathan Tercasio, Federal News Network

Government’s Contract Spending Reached Record High in Fiscal 2020
Frank Konkel, Nextgov

Air Force, Navy developing agreement to share coding platforms
Jackson Barnett, Fedscoop

White House Releases a Regulatory Agenda to Advance Its Priorities
Courtney Bublé, Government Executive

Commentary: Small Business GWACs: A History of Success in Promoting Governmentwide Opportunities for Small Businesses
The Coalition for Government Procurement

Resource: De-Risking Guide for Government Technology Projects
18F

 

Bonus

So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?
Derrick Bryson Taylor, The New York Times

On June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. A century and a half later, people in cities and towns across the U.S. continue to celebrate the occasion.

 

Policy

Increasing Opportunities for Domestic Sourcing and Reducing the Need for Waivers from Made in America Laws
Office of Management and Budget

Spring 2021 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

Building Resilient Supply Chains, Revitalizing American Manufacturing, And Fostering Broad-Based Growth: 100-Day Reviews under Executive Order 14017
The White House

 

Defense and Federal Government

Pentagon considering permanent naval task force to counter China in the Pacific
Lara Seligman, Politico

Next National Defense Strategy Should Return to Two-War Force Construct
John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine

Navy Needs 'Champion' In Secretary Nominee Del Toro, Analysts Say
Caitlin M. Kenney, Defense One

NATO expanding defense clause to attacks in space
Mychael Schnell, The Hill

NATO members agree to new cyber defense policy
Maggie Miller, The Hill

DHS poised to remake federal hiring in September to confront cybersecurity gap
Natalie Alms and Justin Katz, FCW

OPM Finalizes Rule Easing Rehiring of Ex-Feds
Erich Wagner, Government Executive

 

Congress

Lawmakers are worried about the US Navy’s spending plan and a near-term China threat
Megan Eckstein, Defense News

House 2002 war authorization repeal, with Senate action next
Joe Gould, Defense News

Space Command asks Congress for $67 million to achieve full operational capability
Nathan Strout, C4ISRNET

Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Rogers Announce Markup Schedule for Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act
HASC Press Release

Full Committee Hearing: “The Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense” – June 23, 2001
HASC Press Release

 

Acquisition Tips and Tools, with Larry Asch

Will Measuring PALT Fix Procurement?

What is PALT, and what does it measure? Depending on the source, you’ll get different answers.

Do you know which of these is the real PALT?

  1. Procurement Action Lead Time
  2. Procurement Acquisition Lead Time
  3. Procurement Administrative Lead Time

All three of these names are commonly used, but the correct answer is C.

The measurement of PALT has been around for years, but when does it start? In some organizations it begins when the procurement office receives a completed Acquisition Requirements Package (ARP). An ARP or equivalent nomenclature is a complete package including all acquisition documents (and there can be a lot!), approvals, and justifications. Others start measuring when they receive a "funded" requisition. Still others say it begins when the program office had a need and started the first steps (we used to call this Acquisition Lead Time, or ALT).

Over the past three years, we’ve been moving closer to a shared definition of PALT.

The FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Section 886 first mandated that it be defined for all of DoD as “the amount of time from the date on which a solicitation is issued to the date of an initial award of a contract or task order of the Department of Defense.”

The following year, the FY2019 NDAA Section 878 required the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) to develop a definition of PALT to be applied Government-wide and to develop “a plan for measuring and publicly reporting data on PALT for Federal Government contracts and task orders in amounts greater than the simplified acquisition threshold.” This proposed regulatory change was posted in the Federal Register a year later (01/21/2020).

Finally, OFPP issued a memorandum, “Reducing procurement administrative lead time using modern business practices,” on January 14, 2021, putting this definition in place. This memo defines PALT consistent with the FY2018 NDAA language. To provide the data needed to measure PALT, FPDS-NG now has a field for solicitation date, “a mandatory reporting requirement for all contracts or orders valued above the SAT.” The memo includes a table with 17 examples of recent contracting actions taken by agencies that have reduced PALT.

This is a great start, but has anyone seen this memo and taken action?

Here are my recommendations for timely acquisition customer support:

  1. First and foremost, the acquisition team needs to sit down and find out when the customer needs it and why. This may be a novel idea, but it works.
  2. In my experience, the long pole in the tent is getting out of the gate and forming a good Integrated Project Team (IPT) to develop the Market Research Report and Acquisition Strategy. By the time you get to solicitation, you have a good handle on the acquisition and next steps. This measurement of PALT seems to tell only half the story.
  3. Improving PALT time is not just about the contracting folks. Acquisition is a team sport, and we need to look at the whole process; the development of the acquisition requirements package is a key measurement of time. The Section 809 Panel report reflected that from start of requirement to acquisition strategy for one large acquisition took 559 days.
  4. We need improved fundamental training and improvements in all functional areas.
  5. The best tracking of PALT times are the Judy’s, Chris’s, and Jessica’s and others doing their leadership jobs. We used to have a monthly “intensive review” on every acquisition with our Branch Chief Judy. Judy knew Contracting, and she would help expedite and mentor us. But if you had not done your job—watch out.
  6. Some agencies actually have policy groups that help mentor acquisitions and are more than frozen middle checklist reviewers. Early involvement of knowledgeable people helps.
  7. Memos like the OFPP PALT and best practices: what happens to them? How many people read them, how many organizations teach them? How do we institutionalize the DHS Procurement Innovation (PIL) mindset?
  8. What about surveys on how well contracting is supporting the PM’s performance? And yes, let’s hear from Industry too. I know what you’re thinking—no, I don’t think this will affect their functional independence. If it does we warranted the wrong Contracting Officer.
  9. Job Performance ratings directly related to customer support and continuous improvement in customer support and quality