A Coast Guard Station Eatons Neck boatcrew aboard a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium pulls alongside a Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel on August 9, 2018, near Northport, New York. The Auxiliary boat is used as a mock vessel in distress and the station crewmembers practice different towing evolutions with it. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier)

Procurement Innovation Lab Chronicles Successful Year of 17 Projects, Including First for USCG

The Department of Homeland Security said the Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) exceed its goal for the number of projects under its belt for the second year in a row.

The PIL’s new Fiscal Year 2019 Yearbook: Coaching Innovation breaks down this year of progress as the department hopes PIL success can continue to inspire “game-changer” innovation in acquisitions.

“It highlights how procurement teams across DHS, supported by Acquisition Innovation Advocates (AIAs) and PIL coaches, are building on procurement innovation successes and finding new ways to efficiently deliver effective solutions for our customers working tirelessly to fulfill the DHS mission of protecting our homeland,” Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney said in a message to industry posted on beta.sam.gov.

In a message at the beginning of the yearbook, DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa praised the PIL model for continuing “to apply principles of agility to foster procurement innovations, accept calculated risks, and encourage adoption of successful business practices.”

“At the senior leadership level, our responsibility is to continue to set the tone, maintain consistent support, and provide trust that creates a learning culture where our procurement teams feel more comfortable taking smart risks to improve outcomes for the DHS mission,” she added.

Correa added that she was “excited by the evidence supporting the hypothesis that when procurement teams collaborate consistently throughout the acquisition process, they (and their customers and industry participants) are very satisfied with the outcomes.”

The yearbook “illustrates the accomplishments of our acquisition community in putting innovation to work and delivering effective solutions for our customers and end-users,” she said, and “focuses on how the ‘testing and sharing’ framework continues to scale across DHS and the entire federal acquisition community.”

The PIL launched in 2015, and the following year the Acquisition Innovation Associate Council was created at the Office of Management and Budget. 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.

Experiences are shared through PIL webinars (which have seen more than 10,000 participants since 2015), boot camps (1,675 attendees at 31 boot camps since launching in fiscal year 2018) and coaching clinics (with a formal launch in fiscal year 2020).

Every DHS component has now awarded multiple PIL projects (52 total since PIL inception), and some DHS contracting activities are even forming their own innovation teams. The 17 PIL procurement projects awarded in FY 2019 included the first projects with the U.S. Coast Guard, along with projects for Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Procurement Operations, and Office of Selective Acquisitions.

“An additional measure of how DHS acquisition professionals embrace innovative procurement techniques is the rate of PIL micro-credentialing. By the end of FY 2019, 43 percent (cumulative) of the DHS 1102 Contract Specialist job series workforce had earned a PIL Digi-Badge micro-credential (triple last year’s number),” the report notes. “Each PIL Digi-Badge is awarded for demonstrating practical application of innovative procurement techniques.”

The yearbook assesses seven PIL procurement projects, four webinars and four process improvements. The Coast Guard project entailed replacing its AUXDATA system for managing the USCG Auxiliary workforce of 32,000 volunteers. “To streamline the procurement, the team defined a three-phase process with an advisory down-select between each phase. This approach enabled USCG to manage the risk of pre-award protests while significantly reducing time to award. Each company advised not to proceed chose to take the government’s advice and not participate in subsequent phases,” the report states. “…In just over four months, USCG down-selected from 17 companies to one, established a single-award BPA, and immediately issued an order for a new AUXDATA system. Instead of being locked up in rooms reviewing quotes for weeks or months, the technical evaluators spent only 11 days completing evaluations and writing the technical consensus report, enabling them to get back to their primary job of supporting the USCG mission.” The United States Coast Guard AUXDATA Procurement Team received the Homeland Security Today Acquisition Excellence Award in December.

The PIL gathers feedback through quantitive and qualitative metrics, along with an organizational culture assessment.

“I invite you to consider how procurement innovation techniques can be a game-changer in your acquisitions,” Correa wrote. “Leadership and coaches are here to support your goals, encourage you to think differently, and support taking informed risks. PIL coaches act as your trusted business partners in advancing our DHS missions. Those on the front line, and the American people, merit our very best.”

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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 senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She 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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