Greg Rothwell was in charge of procurement for the Department of Homeland Security when DHS was first formed and when Katrina hit. What a job that must have been – standing up a new federal agency and re-building several states. Despite these “extreme” experiences, asked today, Rothwell said we’re now in an “interesting environment”. He said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is sending government buyers a mixed message of “Spend, spend, spend, yet save, save, save”, and do so with more measurement and discipline.
Rothwell was part of a panel sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Innovators Network and the Pew Center on the States. Fred Thompson of Pew (not to be confused with my home state’s actor and former U.S. Senator) said, “It’s a good time to be a buyer – better prices and better quality in what’s being bought”. He warned procurement officials to take “extra care” when dealing with vendors to make sure they can deliver on contracts and have sufficient lines of credit. (There was a long pause from the panelists when asked how to settle the conflict between ensuring that contractors have financial wherewithal and credit, when there’s little credit available.)
Ohio procurement chief Terry Tyler said his state is getting prepared for “extreme” reporting, accountability and transparency – and shorter timeframes. He said Ohio will not be changing their procurement policies because of ARRA, but will be “streamlining the process”. For example, what would have taken ninety days will be shortened to sixty days. Sixty days will be shortened to thirty, etc.
Lessons for vendors throughout the discussion. Don’t expect procurement processes to change, just expect to react faster. Don’t expect the need for speed to create sloppy vendor due diligence, just be prepared for withstanding the scrutiny. Don’t expect to raise prices and skimp on quality, just make strong value propositions and do good work.