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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Procurement Innovation Lab ‘Pivoting’ to Process Improvements as Components’ PIL Support Needs Drop

Only 14 DHS procurement teams and 6 external teams were directly assisted by the PIL in fiscal year 2022 compared to 34 teams coached by PIL in fiscal year 2021.

With the “vast majority of innovation” across Department of Homeland Security components now “happening independently, without PIL support or with only informal PIL support,” the department’s Procurement Innovation Lab “is now pivoting to empower the DHS acquisition workforce to improve the processes that are hindering innovation and preventing procurements from moving at the speed of need.”

Instilling a culture innovation across components has been paying off as in fiscal year 2022 only 14 DHS procurement teams and 6 external teams were directly assisted by the PIL in applying innovative procurement techniques compared to 34 teams coached by PIL in fiscal year 2021, PIL said in its new 2022 Yearbook.

Those 20 projects coached by PIL had a cumulative value of $2.97 billion with $814 million in cost savings in FY22. The average length to award was 138 days, with a shorter timeframe of 113 days to award for small businesses. The average competition rate was eight proposals.

“FY 2022 marked the first time a PIL procurement project received a sustainment although after corrective action, the subsequent re-protest was denied,” the report states. “Even so, the protest did not involve a challenge to any procurement innovations used in that project.” More than 30 protests on PIL procurement projects have been denied or dismissed in the past seven years.

“The acknowledgement of the importance of procurement innovation by our lawmakers is an exciting honor, and we are pleased that this Yearbook includes data on procurement innovation and small business trends. This Yearbook also includes stories about how innovative procurement techniques were used to improve services when responding to federal emergencies and protecting our land and sea borders,” Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney said. “Finally, as the PIL’s framework and training continued to extend across the Federal Government, we are privileged to share the innovation journeys of procurement teams at other federal agencies, where new techniques and creativity supported improved contract outcomes and positively impacted service delivery at our national parks and for our nation’s food supply.”

The PIL launched in 2015, and the following year the Acquisition Innovation Associate Council was created at OMB. The core of PIL coaches act as business advisors to DHS procurement teams in the framework of testing innovative techniques, and successful techniques are shared broadly across DHS and even further through the council at OMB.

The PIL determines how innovative procurement techniques lower barriers for small and non-traditional businesses, encourage competition, shorten the time to award, and increase the likelihood of successful contract performance. After a procurement team member approaches the PIL, two PIL coaches hold a brainstorming session with the procurement team to discuss goals and pick a PIL technique or devise a new one. The teams stay in regular contact as the PIL assignment moves forward. After the contract award, the PIL interviews all successful and unsuccessful vendors and gives the feedback to the contracting officer.

In fiscal year 2021, PIL reported the first-time achievement of every DHS component awarding at least one Procurement Innovation Lab project.

FY 2022 marks the first time that the PIL Yearbook will serve as the official annual report published by the Undersecretary for Management (USM) in accordance with the Promoting Rigorous and Innovative Cost Efficiencies for Federal Procurement and Acquisitions Act of 2021 (PRICE Act of 2021), Courtney said. “Beginning in FY 2023 and continuing through FY 2025, the DHS USM will report annually on PIL-supported projects that have used innovative procurement techniques to effectively improve or encourage better competition, reduce time to award, realize cost savings, produce better mission outcomes, or contribute to meeting the goals for contracts awarded to small business concerns under section 15(g) of the Small Business Act,” he said.

PIL completed its first year of data collection under full functionality of the Knowledge Management System (KMS) launched in April 2021, and reported that of the 14 small business set-aside projects all used confidence ratings, 13 used advisory down-select, 13 used on-the-spot consensus, 11 used brief proposals, and 10 used oral presentations.

In FY22, PIL launched its PIL Boot Camp – The Next Level with 244 attendees, hosted its 66th webinar, welcomed the 5,000th PIL Boot Camp attendee and the 18,000th webinar attendee, logged 3,000 PILcast views (short videos that offer the federal acquisition workforce micro-trainings on narrow procurement innovation topics), and awarded its 30th Level 2 Digi-Badge (Innovation Coach), which was issued to James Abyad at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The fiscal year also marked PIL’s 145th procurement project awarded by the SBA Enterprise Agile Delivery Services (EADS) team.

“PIL Boot Camp – The Next Level presents nine new innovative procurement techniques and teaches acquisition professionals how to think critically to apply the appropriate ones in their next procurement,” the report says, noting that this next-level training will launch government-wide in FY 2023. “It also dives into the application of several techniques from PIL Boot Camp, using scenario-based exercises that allow students to practice evaluating and documenting an oral presentation and to roleplay as members of industry responding to a solicitation.”

The PIL report notes two process improvements: Artificial Intelligence for Market Research, in which PIL partnered with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to award three contracts “to develop cloud-based software solutions that use AI to assist acquisition workforce members in quickly starting the market research process,” and the PIL Idea Competition, “a crowdsourcing platform that empowers the DHS acquisition workforce to solve procurement process challenges that are preventing procurements from moving at the speed of innovation.” Three idea competitions in FY22 were HSAM Appendix G—Checklist for Sensitive Information Process, Streamlining Procurement with Technology, and CBP Congressional Notification Process.

The new PIL assessment comes two months after the DHS Office of the Chief Procurement Officer reported that it exceeded contracting goals and put acquisition innovation and training front-and-center in this past fiscal year.

In fiscal year 2022 the goal for small and disadvantaged businesses was 17 percent; DHS exceeded that with a historic 18 percent of contract dollars. In fiscal year the goal was just 5 percent.

The department met all-time highs in contract dollars awarded to small disadvantaged businesses ($3.99 billion), service-disabled veteran-owned small business ($1.5 billion), HUBZone ($1.19 billion), and women-owned small businesses ($1.75 billion). The small business prime obligation was $8.95 billion — a billion more than the previous fiscal year and accounting for 40 percent of total DHS spend.

OCPO reported that 2,928 businesses — 1,931 of those small businesses — were working with DHS for the first time in FY 2022. The competition rate broke 80 percent for the first time in the department’s history, exceeding the 76.2 percent goal with 80.2 percent. Less than one percent of competed awards were protested, with 82 protests in FY 2022 compared to 110 protests in FY 2021.

The executive-sponsored PIL Idea Competition drew more than 52 submissions from the workforce. PIL also helped the DHS Science and Technology Directorate consolidate five IT support services contracts and award a $111 million blanket purchase agreement to a woman-owned small business. “The consolidation helped DHS take advantage of economies of scale, and the three-phase down-select approach gave S&T confidence in the awardee’s ability to perform the work,” the OCPO report noted. “S&T awarded the contract in nine months.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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