Interior puts horse before cart

'We got a lot of eye-opening feedback last year from OMB on our business cases,' Debra Sonderman said. 'The subject matter experts helped us all learn through the process of putting these cases together and improve our integration with budget and performance.'

Too often acquisition is the 'tail that wags the dog''agencies bring in contracting officers after they have started planning a project, and that ends up delaying things, several procurement executives recently said.

At least one agency is letting the dog take control of its tail. The Interior Department's procurement executive office has approved an acquisition strategy that involves contracting officers early on in the business cases for 60 new IT projects for fiscal 2005.

'The Exhibit 300s [business case forms] require sign-off by a senior procurement executive, and we decided to make it more meaningful,' said Debra Sonderman, Interior's procurement executive. 'We are reviewing all IT and construction business cases based on the Office of Management and Budget's basic criteria.'

Many other agency procurement executives remain on the outside during the planning process.
David Litman, the Transportation Department's senior procurement executive, said program managers should give acquisition officials a seat at the table at the beginning of a project, not after decisions have been made.

'Civilian agencies are just beginning to drive toward a program management culture,' he said. 'That will bring more structure, more discipline and more organization to IT and other purchases.'

Mike Sade, the Commerce Department's procurement executive, said agencies should create an environment in which contracting officers are on the front line to support the agency's mission.

Running it by experts

Interior officials gave Sonderman the authority to rate business cases along with other agency specialists. Sonderman said experts in enterprise architecture, IT security and the President's Management Agenda reviewed the business cases before department executives saw them.

'We got a lot of eye-opening feedback last year from OMB on our business cases,' Sonderman said. 'The subject matter experts helped us all learn through the process of putting these cases together and improve our integration with budget and performance and other PMA items.'

Sonderman said if contracting officers are a part of the beginning of the process, they become business advisers rather than mere order placers.

'We want the contracting officers to learn the market and assist the program office in doing meaningful market research,' she said. 'If contracting officers are part of the entire process, they learn how it works and then next time can be more valuable.'

Hord Tipton, Interior's CIO, said Sonderman's group's has made valuable contributions. He said having a contracting officer's point of view gave the CIOs a new perspective that improved their decisions.

'Debra and her people point out things that we don't think about in the normal course of business,' Tipton said. 'A little over a year ago, we didn't have a process to review business cases other than a quick look at the department level by a handful of CIO staff. Debra's work is a part of an entirely new process.'

Tipton also brought Sonderman in as a voting member of the IT Management Council to add a business perspective to the group. She is the only non-CIO member who has a say on IT project decisions.

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