New GSA acquisition chief calls for government-contractor cooperation

The General Services Administration's new acquisition chief is calling for greater cooperation and communication between the government and its industry contractors, echoing a familiar refrain from members of the Obama administration's procurement team in recent months.

In an interview last week with Government Executive, new GSA Chief Acquisition Officer Mindy Connolly said the two sides should have better dialogue in the lead-up to contract awards and during the process of implementing Federal Acquisition Regulations. GSA, like all contracting agencies, is required to develop a vendor communication plan for its workforce and the public by June 30.

"If we want to have a government that is leaner and more transparent and ready for the 21st century, anything we can do to reduce that burden on industry is really to our advantage," said Connolly, whose first day on the job at GSA was Feb. 28.

The administration has made it a priority of late to myth-bust the perception that contracting officers should not meet with vendors for fear of causing contract delays, or committing potential ethical violations.

Last month, Dan Gordon, administrator of federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget issued a 13-page memorandum that addresses 10 of the most widely held misconceptions, including communicating with a bidder could result in a competing firm filing a protest.

Connolly has experienced the often arcane world of federal contracting from two perspectives, administering awards in both the public and private sectors. She has awarded contracts at NASA, Customs and Borders Protection, and the Treasury Department and was the Transportation Security Agency's first contracting officer. She previously served as chief of contracting for Bureau of Land Management's Western Region and held similar roles in industry, most notably as a contracting manager for Honeywell Defense and Space Electronics.

At GSA, Connolly plans to work with industry to clarify the impact of FAR rules so that industry is not left struggling for answers.

"Because of my experience both in government acquisition and in industry acquisition as the government customer, my interest is that it works better," she said. "It works pretty well, but there are opportunities for it to work better through communications and doing a little different planning in our rule-making."

Most recently, Connolly served as a senior procurement policy analyst at OFPP, where she led the office's natural resources' division on contracting policy matters, including implementing White House requirements for sustainable procurements and green building design.

She helped draft Obama's October 2009 executive order requiring agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, increase energy efficiency, reduce fleet petroleum consumption, and "leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible products and technologies."

The order states 95 percent of all new nonweapons contracts meet sustainability requirements, including being water and energy-efficient and safe for the environment, and containing recycled materials.

Connolly's job is to take the broad-ranging policy for environmentally preferable products and services and sustainable technologies and make it executable through regulations in the FAR.

"Each agency would be able to look at how they can put [directives] into their specifications, or requirements for products," she explained. "Some things are easy, like office paper. Other things are more challenging like a building, or a lease."

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