Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Will Gates' Pentagon Acquisition Efficiency Initiatives Address the Costs and Benefits of Collaboration and Transparency?

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

According to the report 5 teams to tackle Gates call to improve efficiency, five Pentagon teams will focus on identification of Pentagon cost savings based on affordability, incentives, contract terms, metrics, and service contracts. More detail was provided by Elaine Wilson of American Forces Press Service on Sept. 14, 2010 on the DoD’s own web site.

I wonder what these teams will recommend — if anything — concerning collaboration and transparency in the Federal acquisition processes? My own research into opportunities for using collaborative methods and social media to improve Federal acquisitions has had mixed findings. Examples like the BetterBuy Project and increasing use of group involvement, where aspects of the acquisition and procurement process are made more open and collaborative, are still met by much skepticism despite strong supporting arguments.

As a longtime Federal and private sector contractor, it has always seemed obvious to me that the better you understand the client’s requirements, the better chance you have at winning the contract — and the better opportunity the client has of getting what’s needed in return. Contracting policies and processes that throw barriers in the way of understanding the client’s requirements have always seemed to me to favor the incumbent and those with “inside knowledge.” As a result I tend to approach increased collaboration and transparency in Government contracting with a positive mindset.

Not everyone agrees with this. I’ve found that reasons for this skepticism about collaboration and transparency range from plain old fear of change (“That’s not how we’ve ever done things around here!”) to serious concern over the costs involved in making sensitive technical or proprietary information more accessible; just read the pros and cons associated with making some contract details public.

There will definitely be costs involved in making portions of contracts easily available while retaining necessary confidentiality. The question should be, of course, whether the increased benefits of collaboration and transparency outweigh the costs. That’s where the need for objective data about contracting and collaboration is needed.

Hopefully the Gates effort referenced above will shine more light on using collaborative and information sharing techniques as an element in improving efficiency by addressing fundamental questions like these:

  • Does transparency — making information more accessible to interested parties including the public — make contracting more efficient?
  • Does collaboration — working together to accomplish a common objective, even if it means crossing traditional organizational or functional boundaries — generate better ideas?
  • Does information-sharing — making it easier to find needed information, thereby avoiding the need to re-invent the wheel — reduce procurement duration?

The Gates effort is already using “crowdsourcing” by “…asking all DoD military and civilian employees to submit their ideas to save money, avoid cost, reduce cycle time and increase the agility of the Department.” Perhaps some of these new ideas will focus on objectively analyzing the costs and benefits of transparency and collaboration.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald. Contact Dennis in Alexandria Virginia at

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