One for all
Sorrenti brings people together in driving federal acqusition
- By Richard W. Walker
- Apr 26, 2006
How do you pull together the entire acquisition community across the federal government to achieve an extraordinary degree of collaboration on a major cross-agency project? Ask Teresa Sorrenti. She's done it.
In 2001, Sorrenti, director of the General Services Administration's Office of Acquisition Systems, was named program manager of the Integrated Acquisition Environment, one of the 24 groundbreaking e-government initiatives under President Bush's Management Agenda.
Her mission was formidable: to simply, unify and streamline the federal acquisition process. For many in government, the idea of integrating a morass of disparate procurement processes and systems seemed, on the face of it, absurd.
'When she was given this huge project, she gathered acquisition people from across the entire government'if you know government, you know this is impossible,' said Julie Basile, procurement policy analyst for the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. 'You don't even dream you can do it.'
Undaunted, Sorrenti plunged into the project, adopting a manageable team approach to getting IAE off the ground. The first step, for example, was organizing teams of agency representatives to assemble requirements that met all their needs. She was careful to spread the work around to mitigate the burden of participating in the project.
'We set up rotating teams and broke them up according to the different objectives, so nobody had to miss that much work back at the ranch,' Sorrenti said.
In all, the initiative has involved more than 300 officials from 65 agencies. 'We were able to have a good cross-section of people from all the agencies without hurting their own operations,' she said.
Her strategy proved successful. By 2004, IAE had met three of its five original objectives, according to a Government Accountability Office status report on e-government initiatives. Indeed, GAO pointed to IAE as 'an example of effective collaboration' that had contributed to advancing the goals of the initiative.Cultural hurdles
Sorrenti's 'ability to collaborate is unique,' Basile said. 'It's in her bones. She has a natural ability to break down barriers and replace them with a philosophy that promotes collaboration.'
A large part of the IAE challenge has been cultural'coaxing agencies out of their own procurement stovepipes'and not technical, Sorrenti said.
To meet common business needs under IAE, existing systems were leveraged, duplicative systems eliminated and new systems built. But the tough part was convincing agency officials to give up their own systems to create a governmentwide process, she said.
'That was an issue, particularly with agencies that were further along with the development of their own little automation'giving it up and instead using the federal solution,' she said.
To overcome resistance and drive the project forward, Sorrenti gathered the acquisition community around the table and encouraged participants to talk it through.
'We did a little exercise in the beginning that has served us well throughout the lifecycle of the project,' she said. 'We had a group sit down and walk through the entire acquisition cycle. We identified all the major steps, where data sharing was going on and whether [processes were] automated or not. Then we decided which ones made sense to automate and which ones could be shared with other agencies.'
This came at a time when there was 'no cross-agency anything' in government, Basile said.
'The first meetings [Sorrenti] held were critical because each agency had its own culture, and those diverse cultures had to merge,' Basile said. 'She got everybody talking about having spent years doing the same thing in their own different ways. Over time, Teresa calmly and positively engaged everyone and, miraculously, gained consensus. It was like herding cats.'
Finding innovative ways of communicating across cultures also was crucial to building consensus in the early stages.
'Some of the agencies weren't familiar with what was happening in other agencies,' Sorrenti said.
'We used a lot of diagrams and flip charts, coming up with different visuals to show people what things were actually shared [in the acquisition process]. That helped quite a bit in breaking the barriers.'Career player
In addition to her natural leadership qualities, Sorrenti's ability to forge cooperation among acquisition officials across government boundaries also could be rooted in the fact that she has spent her entire 32-year career at GSA. She stared right out of college, entering the Federal Supply Service's personal property management training program.
Before managing the IAE initiative, Sorrenti helped design and implement a GSA electronic-data interchange program and played a leadership role in developing requirements for GSA Advantage, the agency's online shopping system.
'She's been in the government for over 30 years,' Basile said. 'She knows the culture, and she knows the people.'