IT Acquisition Best Practices & Dispelling Myths

Posted by Mary Davie
on July 28, 2015

In June, I read a great open letter from Susan M. Gordon, Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that explained how to make sure we’re doing the best we can to get technology and related services to help us meet our missions.

This blog post is an open letter follow-up with seven best practices for agencies acquiring mission enhancing IT solutions such as software, hardware, telecommunications, cybersecurity, cloud, satellite, mobile, and other IT. These tips should help dispel some common myths.

  1. Make Market Research Personal – Don’t assume market research on paper and the Internet gives you the full picture. You’ll need to talk to experts each time you need an acquisition. Talk to industry, other agencies with similar requirements, and GSA. We administer many government-wide shared IT acquisition contracts. Check out the government’s open and independent resource – the Government Acquisition Gateway and hallways – as a starting point. You’ll find white papers, best practices, potential and existing contracts from GSA and other sources, and community discussion groups where you can ask questions and talk with other agencies.
  2. Always Talk to GSA – Each time you need IT, talk to us about pre-established contracts that might work well for you. It won’t take a lot of time to talk to us – we can use video conferencing or visit you in person. Contact a GSA Customer Service Director in your area to schedule a meeting. In addition to contract vehicles, GSA may be able to share an agency contact with you that recently addressed the same challenges and perhaps developed a best practice in the process. Even if you don’t have a live requirement at the moment, using GSA as a resource for strategic ongoing market research will make for better, well-educated, future buying decisions.
  3. Let Go of Preconceived Judgments – Some people have predetermined notions of many of the pre-established contracts. Letting go of preconceived judgments opens the door to finding the best solutions. For example, you may be surprised to learn how much control you have while using pre-established vehicles, and you may be amazed to find you can often and easily obtain lower pricing through additional negotiations than published, list prices.
  4. Know that Things Change – Don’t think that the government-wide contract you or your contractor checked a year ago is still the same. GSA and other agencies continuously refresh shared contracts and make them more user-centric every day. We’re talking more to government and industry. We constantly seek input on what agencies need today and what industry can offer. We are evolving contracts to meet those needs. For example, this year we’ve added a Cloud SIN to IT Schedule 70 to help agencies find their best cloud solutions easier than ever before. Even though a contract didn’t meet every need in the past doesn’t mean today’s options won’t be your best choices. The GSA of today is not the GSA of yesterday.
  5. Dig Further – If you have an industry partner working with you on market research and acquisition planning who recommends you go open source rather than use an existing contract, do you stop there? As a best practice, don’t. Keep in mind that in-house advisors have more involvement and financial benefit in doing steps required for open-source acquisitions, while pre-established contracts have those steps already completed. For example, if you have a contractor doing market research who recommends going open market for commercial satellite services, consider instead that GSA’s Custom SATCOM (CS2) and CS2-SB contracts have vetted partners and solutions without the overhead and cost of creating an entirely new contract. And remember to evaluate advisor recommendations to ensure they don’t steer toward a specific contract because they’re on it.
  6. Look for Efficiencies – Agencies who use existing contract vehicles with the IDIQ Fair Opportunity process or Multiple Award Contract/Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) save months in acquisition lead time. Why? Because many of the initial steps and approvals required to establish a full stand-alone procurement action, including pre-qualifying industry partners,  have already been done for you. Having to find and qualify contractors can add six months or more to the procurement process.
  7. Lower Agency and Taxpayer Costs – Government-wide contracts can achieve cost savings because multiple agencies are already using them, increasing volume buying from government to industry partners and driving competition to lower costs. I did a recent blog post, for example, about the FSSI Wireless BPAs and how they’re saving agencies on average 27% over what they had been spending on wireless services and devices. Start at the published contract pricing, but always request discounts and lower pricing. Whether you get discounts in initial years or option years, your actual cost will be lower than the initial cost evaluation.

The ultimate motivator and driver for all of us in public service isn’t what we perceive or think is best, but what we find after due diligence is really best for our missions and the American taxpayers.

If you chose not to use GSA for an IT acquisition, it’s ok. But a fresh conversation with GSA should always be part of the equation.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.