Contractors experience limited communication between industry, agencies

Monday - 6/18/2012, 2:55pm EDT

Todd Ramsey, general manager, IBM Federal

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By Keith BieryGolick
Special for Federal News Radio

IBM Federal General Manager Todd Ramsey said there is too much oversight of federal acquisitions, and it is leading to problems.

"The challenge is standard procedures limit communication," Ramsey said in an exclusive interview as part of Federal News Radio's weeklong special report, Inside the World's Biggest Buyer. "The issue is not the laws, but the practices we're using."

In the last 10 years, he said, the federal community has focused more on the arduous process of acquisitions instead of the final outcome. As a result, there are more people who conduct oversight than there are people who can actually get things done.

"We celebrate people who stop programs more than those who are producing results," Ramsey said. "It's time to move back to an outcome orientation."

Ramsey said when government focuses on outcomes, such as how they concentrated on putting a man on the moon or dealt with the aftermath of Sept. 11, a sense of urgency naturally arises. "Actions speak louder than words," he said. "I think we've been at our best in the federal community when the industry, the contractors and the government have been united in outcome."

Communicating through a barrier

In addition to procedural speed bumps, Ramsey said industry and agencies must communicate better.

"You need ongoing dialogues," he said. "In many cases we've resorted to writing everything down on one side, sending it over a barrier and writing a result on the other side. That lack of communication, I think, is the cause of many of the problems we have in the programs today."

He said by meeting with clients it becomes easier to understand each other's business needs, pain points and makes it possible to provide better suggestions and innovative ideas about how to solve any problems that might arise.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently released its Mythbusters 2 memo to address communication issues between agencies and contractors. Although the campaign contains good ideas, its implementation has left a lot to be desired, Ramsey said.

"I was on a call this week where someone read a memo that was sent to one of the agency personnel here in Washington that basically said if a contractor requests a meeting, you should ask a series of questions," Ramsey said. "One of which is: Are they intending to bid on any RFP in the near future or do they want any information about the RFP? If the answer is yes, you should not meet with the contractor. I think it's those types of things that are being implemented that make the Mythbusters campaign not as effective as they intended."

Although he's not particularly optimistic about the Mythbusters campaign, Ramsey said he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"We had a period like this in the early '90s and I think we came together as government industry [saying] that we needed to do better," he said. "I see the beginnings of that today in the industry associations and things that are there. So I think we'll see some of that happen naturally here over the next few years."

Keith BieryGolick is an intern at Federal News Radio

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