Having recently started a new job at Unisys, I have given a lot of thought to my 12 years of experience working in the federal government – including serving as the chief information officer (CIO) for the General Services Administration (GSA). During my tenure in government, I oversaw a period of great change in technology solutions and business models, giving me a perspective that is helpful as I now work with federal clients.
The reverse is also true—I have found these last 18 months spent working in the private sector supporting government very enlightening, to say the least! I have learned many lessons that would have been helpful as a federal CIO.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a few observations that are more keenly evident to me since my transition:
It may sound obvious, but those who work in the private sector are generally motivated by a real desire to help fulfill the missions of the agencies they are hired to work with, and a pride in supporting those important responsibilities. They are usually just as motivated by patriotism and the need to improve life for the U.S. public as those on the government payroll.
As a government employee, I noted there is often a suspicion that industry exists solely to take the government’s money. That mindset can sometimes damage the relationships between the government and its contractors, introducing misunderstanding and ultimately poorer outcomes.
Obviously, private companies must make a profit in order to exist, and government workers must exercise strong oversight of their industry partners. But that relationship should be based on presupposition that all parties are eager to support the government’s mission.
When engaging in IT procurements, the government has to be even-handed with potential bidders – but that does not mean shutting off dialogue. It is easy to take the most risk-averse path and communicate very little, in hopes of avoiding any negative consequences (e.g., accusations of bias or improper influence).
Of course, there can be a risk to communicating. But I would argue there is an even greater cost to not communicating. Without effective dialogue between government and industry, contractors cannot understand the outcomes the government is seeking, and they are hindered from effectively meeting the government’s needs. As a result, the federal team will be less aware of innovative new capabilities.
Some programs really stand out for their attention to a strong dialogue with industry. GSA’s Alliant 2 is a great example, where the procurement team has devoted significant time to candid industry conversations, and are shaping a more successful procurement.
Government procurements are frequently extremely prescriptive on issues related to “how:” How many people perform the work? How much experience does the company have? And so on.
These are important questions. But as new players enter the market, we should be thinking more about outcomes rather than process. To use a football analogy, the playing field is 100 yards. The government and its contractors should have the opportunity to use the entire field – not just 10 or 20 yards in the middle of the field – as long as they don’t go out of bounds.
There’s room for creativity and innovation in our procurement system; we just need to embrace it.
This post was first published in Federal Times at http://www.federaltimes.com/story/government/acquisition/blog/2015/09/23/lessons-learned-late-things-wish-had-known-before-leaving-government/72696420/