Administration encourages communication with contractors

Federal acquisition officials need to interact with industry more while writing solicitations and negotiating contracts, the Obama administration's procurement chief said on Friday.

For years, agency contracting officers have been afraid to meet with vendors for fear of sparking bid protests, causing delays, or committing potential ethical violations, said Dan Gordon, administrator of federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget. But, the lack of interaction could be causing the government to pay higher prices, or to provide poorly defined contract requirements, he said.

On Wednesday, Gordon's office released a 13-page memorandum that attempts to bust 10 widely held misconceptions about contractor communications.

"For much too long, the emphasis has been on the [contracting] 'don'ts,' " Gordon said during an afternoon conference call with reporters. "This is an effort to highlight to 'dos.' "

For example, the memo dispels the notion that communication with a bidder could result in a competing firm filing a protest. Gordon said there is no way to make a contract "protest-proof" and such efforts are not only a poor use of contracting officials' time, but also could also deprive the government of potentially useful information.

The memo was the result of months of meetings with procurement officials, industry leaders, agency contract attorneys and ethics officials, Gordon said. The document, which does not require statutory or regulatory changes, can be adjusted as time goes on, he said. Additional outreach with government and industry officials is expected in the coming months.

Although there will be no concrete way for determining the initiative's success, Gordon said he hopes contracting officials use the enhanced communication to develop more reasoned statements of work and contract solicitations.

"If we can prevent one procurement from going off the rails," he said, "it will be worth it."

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