The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s new procurement operation is likely to move forward with its new authority at a measured pace as it builds the right team in an evolving agency, said the GSA’s former top acquisition official.
Alan Thomas, former commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration and current chief operating officer at IntelliBridge, told WFED’s Federal Drive with Tom Temin that “a startup within a startup” needs to start with the right people.
“I do definitely think you need people who have some fluency in technology, and also some interest, right, because I said, this is an area that’s rapidly changing,” he said. “Something that you knew 18 months ago about the technology might be different today and it certainly is going to be different 18 months from now. So I think you need the kind of people who are interested and curious.”
CISA Chief Information Officer Robert Costello announced at the end of June that “our component acquisition executive gets initial procurement authority early July.” The former National Protection and Programs Directorate was made a standalone component in 2018, and Costello noted that “there’s a lot of work to do internally just on our own identity and culture.”
David Patrick has been chief acquisition executive at CISA since September; he came to the component from ICE, where he served as deputy assistant director in the Office of Investment and Program Accountability. Federal News Network previously reported that CISA’s FY 2023 budget request includes $6.2 million for 50 positions to establish a procurement team within the Office of the Chief Acquisition Executive.
“As a new agency, CISA does not currently have the internal procurement operations and support functions to effectively and efficiently support CISA’s growing and rapidly changing cybersecurity, infrastructure, emergency communications, risk management, stakeholder engagement, and other missions,” say budget documents, adding that “a CISA procurement activity will operate as a full business partner and serve as a strategic asset dedicated to improving the agency’s overall business performance.”
The team’s duties would include meeting with industry partners and “identifying and utilizing existing contractual flexibilities and methodologies to best meet end-user needs in a rapidly changing environment.”
Thomas said that the new procurement team should “avoid trying to do too much too fast,” adding that his “sense, having talked to a few folks around this startup, is that that’s not going to happen there.”
“CISA is ultimately going to be a component like a Customs and Border Protection or the Transportation Security Administration,” he said. “But again, it’s a ramp, you know. Twenty-four-month-plus ramp. So I think they’ve got the right approach in not trying to do too much too fast.”
Asked whether CISA’s team should be composed of government insiders or outsiders, Thomas replied that “it would be great to see a mix of folks.”
“You’re going to need some people from within the government and this is always the challenge. And I do know that they’re going to do some remote hiring as well, so have a mix of a D.C.-based and a remote workforce,” he continued. “Particularly in D.C., agencies tend to steal good acquisition people from each other, right? So it’s like, all the agencies are kind of recruiting against each other. So I do think you’re going to need some senior folks who come from government but, again, who’ve got the right attitude and aptitude. I think it would be really interesting to bring in some more junior folks from the outside. Maybe people who are a little more fluent in technology, who need to be trained up to some extent. But again, they’ve got maybe a little bit different outlook and approach. I think, particularly for a place like CISA, it would be interesting to sort of mix some seasoned feds and some newer folks.”