Small can be good

GCN Photo by Henrik G. DeGyor

Glenn Perry, director of contracts and purchasing for the Education Department

Flexibility can give small agencies a contracting edge

When it comes to contracting, big agencies have clout that small agencies don't, because of the sheer power of volume purchasing.

But small agencies have advantages, too, among them the flexibility that comes with having fewer people to please.

As the director of contracts and purchasing for the Education Department, Glenn Perry knows the advantages and disadvantages small agencies face.

GCN staff writer Jason Miller asked Perry about the small-agency perspective.

GCN: How can small agencies overcome the obstacle of having fewer resources than large agencies?

PERRY: Small agencies tend to view these things as obstacles, but they should take advantage of the fact they are small and use it not as a strength. Small agencies can do things that may be harder to do within a larger bureaucracy where the stakeholders are more rigid and there are larger components that you have to work across.

At a smaller agency, in theory, the stovepipes shouldn't be as large and may not be as much as an obstacle because they are not as entrenched as with a larger organization.

GCN: What are some of the creative incentives small agencies can build into contracts?

PERRY: The issue is the same for incentives no matter the size of the project or agency. Small agencies deal with smaller budgets and programs, so the first reaction is that maybe they can't use the traditional incentive of a bonus payment. The feeling is that it will cost the agency more money they don't have and it will this may detract from program delivery.

With most things, if you peel away the layers, you will probably find sufficient areas where there are funds that could be spent better. You could save money and then apply some of that to the way you compensate your industry partner.

The first thing you have to do is work with the program people to identify what the real business results of that program are.

GCN: What are the most important things to consider when putting together a large contract?

PERRY: Communication, communication and communication between all the parties and stakeholders. Aside from communication, the involvement of all stakeholders from the start also is important.

Competition is another important thing. The government should maximize competition. We still are trying to find the right balance, but we do a much better job.

The relationship of government and contractor and how you structure it has to have a certain amount of flexibility, especially in the performance-based environment. In modernization projects, you could have some turns in the road you didn't anticipate because of changes in technology or other reasons. You have to build in that flexibility to get you through.

GCN: How can small agencies make use of new, innovative arrangements such as share-in-savings or performance-based contracts?

PERRY: Being in a smaller agency, we don't encounter some of the obstacles that some folks from larger agencies put out in front. We are able to bring together various [offices] that have a common understanding, and we never got into the showstoppers that larger agencies consider obstacles. We viewed some of these things as working within what you already have authority to do.

Smaller agencies also have fewer folks to get together to agree on what metrics are and what results we are expecting. But it all is based on relationships of various offices'and the better the relationships, the easier it is to get things done.

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