Procurement office recommends new cadre of IT experts

Agencies must think about whether a specialized team is appropriate and update acquisition plans accordingly.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy has instructed agency acquisition chiefs to consider forming specialized teams whose members have deep subject matter knowledge to manage information technology purchases.

The plan, outlined in a July 13 memo from OFPP Administrator Dan Gordon, generally jibes with a revised acquisition process described in federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra's overall IT reform plan, released in December 2010.

That plan bemoaned the fact that government contracting officers often are experts in ethics and protocol but have limited in-depth knowledge about the industries they're working with or the government customers they're purchasing for. That deficiency can be especially costly with major IT purchases because much of the work is deeply technical and innovations may cause an agency to change its requirements several times during a lengthy acquisition cycle.

Kundra's plan envisioned standing up a cadre of IT acquisition expert teams governmentwide to facilitate major purchases and help break down some bureaucratic walls between contracting officers, agency customers and vendors. The plan called for experts at larger agencies to pitch in at smaller agencies that make fewer big IT purchases and where an expert team isn't feasible.

Some IT-heavy agencies already have created such expert teams, according to the plan, including NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

Gordon's July memo doesn't mandate that agencies create an IT acquisition cadre, but it does require them to supplement their most recent acquisition human capital plan, a master document of federal contracting, with a description of whether an IT expert team is appropriate and how the agency will go about creating one if it is.

Those supplements are due by the end of August, the memo said.

IT acquisition teams should include program managers and contracting officers, the memo said, and possibly other employees specifically responsible for maintaining the lines of communication between the acquisitions group and its agency customers.

Agencies should strongly consider forming IT acquisition cadres if they make major and diverse technology purchases, the memo said, or if watchdog reports have pointed out weaknesses in their IT procurements.