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State Department Prioritizing Agility, AI in Holistic and Innovative Acquisition Strategy

A strategic framework focusing on people, culture, process, and technology – along with a strong belief in executing the acquisition experience in a way that serves as a model for other contracting operations – has been positioning the State Department’s Office of the Procurement Executive to efficiently and effectively meet current and future mission support challenges.

“We’re very lean and agile in terms of how we deliver support,” Senior Procurement Executive Mike Derrios told the Government Technology and Services Coalition at a recent State Department Days session on the vision for the department’s procurement strategy.

The Office of the Procurement Executive reported $10.3 billion in expenditures for fiscal year 2020, an increase from $9 billion in FY 2019.

Derrios predicted an increase in contracting activity this year, with the Office of Acquisitions Management – consisting of the Business Operations, Diplomatic Security Contracts, Worldwide, International Programs, and Facilities, Design and Construction divisions – accounting for the “lion’s share” of the spend. Branches within these divisions support critical functions ranging from building new facilities to information management to anti-terrorism and security assistance.

The Office of Acquisitions Policy consists of the Foreign Assistance, Global Assistance Management – where about $1 billion of overseas acquisition spend each year goes to desk officer support – and Strategic Communications and Policy divisions.

OPE says it is committed to the highest ethical standards, honesty and fairness in the procurement process, along with reaching solutions anchored by shared accountability, thoughtful collaboration, and trusted relationships. The office also stresses the importance of attracting and maintaining a high-performing workforce that has the tools needed to excel, and determined staff who are balancing risk in working toward optimal outcomes.

The office defines acquisition experience, or Acq-X, as “the holistic perception that federal procurement professionals, customers, and stakeholders have of the OPE brand,” representing “the totality, and quality, of the collective interactions that any of these groups have with the OPE organization across our experience ecosystem.”

“We are trying to coin that phrase across the govcon community,” Derrios said.

The Center for Acquisition Experience leads Acq-X execution, with the stated objectives of continually improving the business to enable delivery, positioning the organization for future opportunities, leveraging talent and managing strategic growth, promoting the concept of Acq-X across the State Department acquisition enterprise, and creating “the paragon for what a federal procurement organization should be in the 21st century.”

“Our folks do not take cookie-cutter approaches with contracting,” Derrios said.

Some of the “sharpest procurement outcomes,” he noted, emerge from strong relationships in which operators can maximize performance and industry can showcase their best products and services in the process.

Derrios lauded the responsive and knowledgeable workforce in State Department contracting, stressing that with “highly motivated” mission support “we’re looking to take it to the next level.”

OPE’s strategic goals for FY 2022 through FY 2026 include building and developing a 21st century acquisition workforce that can meet emerging challenges, establishing the State Department acquisition enterprise as an employer of choice, modernizing the business process and enhancing proficiency, and ensuring the latest technology is implemented to promote efficiency and effectiveness.

“A well-oiled acquisition machine” enhances the experience for the customer, the employee, and the stakeholder, he noted. “It’s an ecosystem.”

In terms of people, the strategic plan focuses on improving employee experience and maintaining an engaged workforce, establishing proactive human capital and talent management programs, integrating strategic communication for unity of effort, and cultivating leadership and management prowess as a core competency.

When it comes to fostering an innovative and results-driven organizational culture at OPE, the strategy calls for increasing customer experience through dedicated stakeholder management and putting in place next-gen continuous learning programs.

“You’re going to hear a whole lot more about the State Department when it comes to the caliber of our acquisition program,” Derrios vowed.

As OPE works to improve process, the strategic plan focuses on optimizing service delivery for domestic and overseas mission support, bolstering the policy and quality assurance function, standardizing internal and external business processes, and improving contracting outcomes.

And the utilization of technology to further strategic goals includes maximizing the performance of current IT systems, investing in new cognitive capabilities to advance operations, and leveraging business intelligence to inform data-driven decisions.

That includes expecting the department to be on the “cutting edge” of using artificial intelligence and machine learning “to do the business better.”

“I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface,” Derrios added, noting that “we are really going to be going all-in on cognitive procurement moving forward.”

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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