Acquisition leans into automation

The federal acquisition workforce is enthusiastic about the potential of robotics process automation to limit data bias, streamline regulations and reduce outside contracting.

Automation is gaining traction in federal acquisition.

"When we met with senior leaders a few weeks ago, they had a list of processes they wanted automated by that week," Lesley Field, deputy administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, said at a panel discussion at the 2019 Presidential Rank Awards Leadership Summit on Dec. 17. She said the acquisition workforce is enthusiastic about developing robotics process automation tools within the government.

Soraya Correa, chief acquisition officer at the Department of Homeland Security, noted that automation technologies offer a number of advantages, including limiting problems that can stem from data bias.

"With automation, we can get to a fairer process,” he said. “Right now, we engage more data bias because we're limited by what we can do as long as we're telling industry what we're willing to do and where we're going to go look for this information."

Automation, Correa added, would also give the federal government more leverage to scrutinize what outside parties are doing with its data. In turn, Field said, this would create more opportunities for collaboration between industry and agencies because it would allow both parties to anticipate what would be done with data in a more transparent way: "You have to look at reimagining agencies' data processes. If you have layers and layers of guidance on, say, archiving, maybe that's not necessary [anymore]."

The technology could also help cut down on the need for contractors or outsourcing when agencies are trying to analyze reams of data. It would allow federal employees to handle certain tasks internally once again.

"Right now, because the process for some duties is so tedious and so long, we're contracting out certain things that should be retained within the government," Correa said. "If we get bring that work back in-house, it will let us get rid of conflicts of interest."

Correa also pointed out that automation would free up workers to focus on more complex tasks that would better aid agency missions as departments like DHS continue to face down more dangerous threats.

"As I point out to my staff, the threats that we face don't have [federal acquisition regulations], they don't have a Government Accountability Office. They don't have to go through all that, so we have to find a way to work within the confines of that and still face the threat," Correa said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

NEXT STORY: USAID automates HR services

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