The Department of Homeland Security is “knocking it out of the park” when it comes to awarding contracts to small businesses while the agency moves forward with its strategy to increase industry collaboration and improve the procurement experience, Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney said Wednesday at the annual meeting and 10th anniversary celebration for the Government Technology and Services Coalition.
Courtney, who had served as Deputy Chief Procurement Officer since June 2019, took over the duties as acting CPO after Soraya Correa retired at the end of July 2021 and was named the department’s new CPO in August. Before joining DHS, Courtney led contracting activity as a section chief at the Justice Department from 2013 to 2019.
“It’s been a great ride,” Courtney said of following “in the tremendous footsteps” of Correa, who had served as CPO since January 2015.
Last month, DHS announced that it received a grade of “A+” on the Small Business Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 Small Business Procurement Scorecard – the 13th consecutive “A” year for the department and the 6th consecutive “A+” year, placing DHS as the largest federal agency to score such a record since SBA started handing out grades in 2009.
Last fiscal year, DHS awarded 38.25 percent of total eligible contracting dollars to small businesses, sailing past the government-wide goal of 23 percent and the department’s own goal of 33.25 percent. For consecutive 10 fiscal years, DHS also exceeded its Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) goal, with 5.50 percent compared to the government-wide goal of 3 percent.
With 33 business days left in this fiscal year, as of Wednesday, Courtney said DHS has obligated between $16 billion and $17 billion total, and is on track to hit $23 billion to $25 billion. “Our people will come through,” he said.
The Office of the Chief Procurement Officer’s Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2022-2025 states that their first priority is to empower the workforce by attracting and maintaining a diverse and highly capable team, inspiring a culture of empowerment and innovation, maximizing the potential of individuals and teams, and fortifying confidence to enable creativity and critical thinking. The department intends to meet these objectives by strengthening acquisition workforce succession plans through career entry and development programs; enhancing the department’s reputation as a workplace of choice through empowerment, flexibility, and trust; delivering training, professional development, and a mentoring framework “at the speed of need”; and maintaining trust in leadership by listening to employees and acting in the collective best interests of DHS and all who serve its mission.
Courtney said that preparing the procurement workforce to be innovative, embrace new approaches and “take those chances” better prepares them to work with industry – sharing lessons learned and best practices, and feeding great ideas up to the top. “We want them to have a voice at the table,” he said.
The second priority focuses on energizing partnerships through collaboration, including evolving cross-organizational relationships, partnerships, and coalitions; strengthening communication across the global acquisition community; uniting with industry, academia, partner agencies, and other communities; and building mutual trust across the procurement team. DHS intends to achieve this by expanding the use of technology to enable greater communication, collaboration, and networking; improving procurement outcomes through meaningful exchanges with industry, academia, and other institutions; advocating for DHS interests through proactive and transparent engagement with oversight entities; and leveraging the agency’s reputation as a leader in federal procurement to influence change.
“I mean dialogue, not one-way conversation,” Courtney told the industry representatives. “I really want to stress this.”
Reverse industry days and one-on-one conversations, along with emphasizing that the door is always open for industry, helps DHS learn what worked well on specific procurements, he said, and learn from what didn’t work well.
The third pillar of the OCPO’s strategy is centered on inspiring innovation to enhance mission capability. This involves building solutions that anticipate customers’ needs, challenging the status quo to enable mission readiness, expanding access to innovative ideas and solutions, and increasing equity and inviting new entrants to the DHS industrial base. The department’s objectives are to create and adapt solutions that enable DHS to keep pace with evolving threats, cultivate a culture that assumes and manages acceptable risk, bolster early acquisition planning and cross-functional team collaboration, and welcome perspectives and contributions from a diverse partner community, including small businesses.
The fourth and final priority outlined in the strategic plan focuses on enriching the DHS procurement experience by fortifying trust in the DHS procurement brand, serving as flexible business advisors, challenging perceived boundaries of traditional roles, and measuring the quality of the procurement experience. Attaining this involves streamlining policies and processes to promote efficiency and flexibility, embracing collaborative oversight throughout the procurement process to improve outcomes, increasing customer satisfaction with solutions and services, and exploiting data and emerging technology to optimize outcomes and customer experience.
Asked about the challenges facing DHS’ procurement shop, Courtney said that continuing resolutions passed by Congress pose a “continual” issue – yet one that’s anticipated. The department is also working to address other key issues impacting procurement such as supply-chain issues and inflation impacts; DHS currently has plenty of personal protective equipment, he said, but is “trying to get all that made in America – we’re getting there.”
Courtney encouraged industry to “keep feeding us information” and “help us become a better organization – we really value what comes from our mission partners.”
“We want to have that dialogue and conversation with you,” he said.