Collaborating with industry partners who have a stake in the outcome of an acquisition is recognized across the federal government as a productive and successful venture to secure desired results.

For example, upon standing up its “Myth-Busting” initiatives, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy stated:

[T]he federal government has an obligation to conduct our procurements in the most effective, responsible, and efficient manner possible. Our industry partners are often the best source of information, so productive interactions between federal agencies and our industry partners should be encouraged to ensure that the government clearly understands the marketplace and can award a contract or order for an effective solution at a reasonable price.[1]

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), despite its unique mission, is not immune to the acquisition challenges faced by the broader federal acquisition community. It too seeks to build stronger relationships with its industry partners, as well as broaden its industry base to further the achievement of acquisition objectives.

The Office of the Procurement Executive (OPE), under the leadership of the Procurement Executive (PE), Margaret V. Augustine, is responsible for executing the CIA’s acquisition authorities, as well as overseeing the hiring and development of the agency’s acquisition workforce. Upon assuming the role of PE, Ms. Augustine emphasized OPE’s guiding tenet, “Acquisitions at the Speed of Mission,” and immediately undertook strategic initiatives to realize that vision. She and her senior acquisition leadership team sought to build an acquisition culture and strategic framework of thoughtful innovation — as well as to create a means to leverage industry to learn and share best practices with the CIA acquisition workforce.

“Build, Value, Retain, and Reward a High Performing Workforce” is Pillar One under the PE’s Strategic Framework. Ms. Augustine recognized that the CIA’s vendor base could be a valuable source of information about acquisitions tradecraft across government — and also provide the “proposal preparer” perspective on practices that enhance or diminish interest in, and response to, requests for proposals.

In 2017, a CIA industry partner presented Ms. Augustine with a white paper outlining the concept for an “Industry Partner Exchange” (IPX) — a regularly scheduled forum for government and industry invitees to have structured, candid discussions on acquisition topics from both perspectives. Not only would the IPX afford the CIA acquisition workforce with expanded knowledge and appreciation of industry practices, but it also aligned with the Strategic Framework’s Pillar Five, “Expand the Agency’s Industry Base.”

Ms. Augustine believed IPX could be a valuable supplement to other OPE vendor engagement activities and agreed to collaborate with industry partners to make the IPX a reality.

How Does It Work?

IPX forums are held three times a year. The audience is a mix of government attendees and industry representatives. Government attendees include not only contracting officers, but contracting officer’s representatives, auditors, contract lawyers, security officers, and other acquisitions-related stakeholders. The industry audience is comprised of representatives from large, medium, and small companies and typically includes acquisitions officers, business development professionals, and company leaders. Each event is less than a day in length and includes networking opportunities as a means to “get to know your industry/government counterpart” and build relationships. The IPX is not a marketing opportunity and companies are discouraged from engaging in company promotion and/or business development.

For its initial forums, the IPX was hosted and moderated by an industry partner. Going forward, the venue will be hosted at a government facility. A wide range of acquisitions topics are presented in various formats during the IPX by both government and industry presenters — including joint panels, debates, fireside chats, or keynotes. To vary the cadence of the event, the agenda has also included “Flashpoints,” which are topics that lend themselves to short, 15-minute capture presentations. Without sharing proprietary information, industry speakers discuss their companies’ business and acquisitions practices, the mechanics of internal decision-making, the impact of the CIA’s practices on industry, sharing of best practices, and collective ideas for improvement. These discussions allow government attendees to move past stereotypes and gain a deeper understanding of the motivation that drives their industry partners.

Examples of past topics include:

  • How are bid/no-bid decisions made?
  • Mergers and acquisitions: How are these decisions made and what is the impact to the government customer?
  • What goes into a decision to protest?
  • Government security requirements: An industry perspective.
  • Government contract funding practices: An industry perspective.
  • Award fee contracts: An industry perspective.

Results

To date, the IPX has established a valuable and ongoing two-way conversation between the CIA and industry acquisition communities and has become a valuable tool in the OPE’s suite of vendor outreach initiatives. “It’s a priority for my workforce to attend the IPX,” says Ms. Augustine. “Insights shared at these events have supplemented classroom learning and added a new dimension to understanding industry business practices.”

The IPX has been unquestionably well-received by the CIA acquisition workforce and has received tremendous positive feedback from both industry and other government attendees, leaving both audiences with new and first-hand insights and perspectives of the “other” side. “Ms. Augustine’s adoption of the IPX was a solid win in her role as Procurement Executive,” said one industry participant.

“The IPX was a great investment of time for me,” shared one 2018 government attendee. “I was able to share our organization’s challenges and relay valuable feedback to my leadership and colleagues about protests. This is access to industry in a way we just haven’t had before.”

Way Forward

The OPE envisions the IPX will continue to evolve as the government-industry partnership and communication grows stronger. For example, one idea under consideration is using government-industry “tiger teams” to explore and offer recommendations on acquisition approaches or processes relevant to the acquisition/contract award timeline. As with every other part of the IPX, industry-wide engagement will be paramount to ensure impartiality, diversity of perspective, and overall value of the end results.

Closing

The IPX has highlighted that government and industry have a lot in common:

  • Dedication to mission,
  • Commitment to fiscal responsibility, and
  • Respect for fairness in federal acquisitions.

By opening the lines of communication, we can work together to overcome real or perceived hurdles in the acquisition process and realize the CIA’s vision of “Acquisitions at the Speed of Mission.” CM

Mark DeVido

  • Chief, Acquisition Strategy; Office of the Procurement Executive; Central Intelligence Agency

Endnotes

[1] Office of Federal Procurement Policy; Memorandum for Chief Acquisition Officers, Senior Procurement Executives, and Chief Information Officers; “‘Myth-Busting’: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry during the Acquisition Process” (February 2, 2011); available at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/omb/procurement/memo/Myth-Busting.pdf.