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Report recommends new IT acquisition manager positions

Federal information technology purchasing is hobbled by an acquisition process that focuses more on compliance than results and places too little emphasis on communication between suppliers and their government customers, an industry group says.

The outcome is "that over $600 billion in information technology investments by the federal government have produced few results," stated a report released Monday by the Federal Acquisition Innovation and Reform Institute, a two-year-old industry group aimed at improving federal purchasing by making it look more like the private sector.

The report recommends creating IT acquisition manager positions governmentwide to shepherd major purchases from the initial advertisement through delivery.

In contrast to government contracting officers who "act . . . primarily as process and compliance managers," the report said, these new acquisition managers would be modeled on their private sector counterparts who "act as objective facilitators and relationship and business managers, bringing together customers and suppliers to meet business objectives."

Authors Raj Sharma and David Litman described the new acquisition managers as forming a bridge between industry suppliers and government purchasers. Creating the positions wouldn't require revising any federal acquisition regulations, the authors said, but would help government purchasers broaden their focus and avoid getting bogged down in compliance issues.

"I think what happens too often now is that program managers and contracting officers kind of operate in their own silos and they kind of throw things back and forth to each other and they don't really collaborate," Litman said. "The idea here is for someone to be able to walk between those worlds and create a much stronger team ethic."

The report's recommendations build off one portion of the government's December 2010 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management, which called on federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy "to design a specialized IT acquisition cadre" by May.

Government guidance for those positions has yet to be publicly released, but the report's authors said they think it will come out shortly.

Industry acquisition executives Sharma and Litman interviewed repeatedly stressed that there was no fundamental difference between IT purchasing and general government purchasing. The report recommends that the IT acquisition manager positions be treated as a pilot for a cadre of similar positions in all other purchasing areas.

IT is a useful place to test the new positions, the authors said, because of the vast and growing amount of money the government directs toward IT purchases and because of their generally high public visibility.

Sharma and Litman have had one meeting on Capitol Hill about the report and are in the process of scheduling more, they said.

"Generally there's receptivity to the recommendations, but there's definitely a viewpoint that it may be difficult," Sharma said. "People generally agree that this is the right direction, but 'how do you make it happen?' is the area where people are seeking more information."

Sharma is chief executive officer of Censeo Consulting, which advises the Defense Department and other government and private sector clients on acquisitions. Litman is a former senior procurement executive with the Transportation Department.

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