Despite Mythbusters, poor communication still plagues industry-government relationship

Thursday - 9/20/2012, 3:57am EDT

Steven Grundman, Lund Fellow, Atlantic Council

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Over the last decade, the communication between contractors and agencies revolved around industry days, requests-for-information and a host of steps to ensure fairness.

What got lost in the concern over making sure everyone receives the same information is the importance of real discussions about how to solve agency problems. Then-OFPP Administrator Dan Gordon recognized this long-standing challenge, writing in the first Mythbusters memo that "…agencies often do not take full advantage of these existing flexibilities. Some agency officials may be reluctant to engage in these exchanges out of fear of protests or fear of binding the agency in an unauthorized manner."

Why the industry/government
relationship was rated ineffective
Reason #1: OMB issues two Mythbusters memos to encourage easier acquisition process

Reason #2: DHS crafts draft vendor guidance ignoring spirit of Mythbusters

Reason #3: Industry skeptical of Mythbusters

(More primary source material available on The Obama Impact Resource Page)

Gordon issued that first Mythbusters memo in February 2011, detailing 10 common misconceptions and the facts around vendor-agency communications.

In May 2012, OFPP issued Mythbusters 2 to dispel eight more misconceptions.

But the guidance has had only limited success. Federal News Radio has rated the administration's efforts to improve communication between government and industry ineffective.

The rating is part of Federal News Radio's special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years. Throughout the series, Federal News Radio examines 23 different ideas and initiatives instituted by the Obama Administration and ranks them as effective, ineffective and more progress needed.

The best example of the lack of progress is a Homeland Security Department draft vendor guidance from the National Protection and Programs Directorate. While NPPD never issued the vendor-communications checklist, it showed a lack of penetration of the Mythbusters memo.

IBM Federal General Manager Todd Ramsey told Federal News Radio in June a lack of communication too often is the biggest problem between vendors and agencies. He said the Mythbusters campaign is not as effective as intended.

A Federal News Radio survey of Chief Acquisition Officers in December 2011 found 43 percent of the respondents said Mythbusters hasn't had an impact yet on their agency. In a second Federal News Radio survey of CAOs in August, 37 percent of the respondents said Mythbusters is not effective and another 12.5 percent said it's losing steam.

Steven Grundman, the Lund Fellow for emerging defense challenges at the Atlantic Council, says the complexity of federal procurement is at the root of the contentious relationship between the Pentagon and contractors.

He said the Pentagon should revise its 200-page acquisition policy handbook to make it simpler, briefer and to enact the spirit of Better Buying Power.

He agrees with the principles of Better Buying Power but the implementation lacks what Grundman called "a transmission belt that takes these big ideas and promulgates them into this great big bureaucracy called the acquisition workforce in a way that can really be enacted faithfully rather than hand-fistedly, which I fear is a lot of what contractors have experienced from Better Buying Power over the last couple of years."

The key to improving industry-DoD relationships is to agree to the right type of contract at the beginning of a project, which is one of the principles of Better Buying Power, he said.

"Lets get that right the first time so that we don't end up in these conflicts down the line," he said.


More from the special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years

Part 1: Evaluating the Obama administration's management initiatives

Part 2: Evaluating Obama's technology reforms

Part 3: Evaluating Obama's workforce initiatives

Part 4: Evaluating Obama's acquisition efforts

Part 5A: What would a second-term for President Obama mean for feds?

Part 5B: What would a Romney presidency mean for federal workers?