The agency also optimized the portal for mobile devices, as well as set up subscription lists for retirement information and benefits updates.”
“Social Security is part of the retirement plan for almost every American worker. It provides replacement income for qualified retirees and their families. This section of our website helps you better understand the program, the application process, and the online tools and resources available to you.”
“The government’s mobilization in the recent weeks to design a network of citizen-focused programs has been profound to watch—and in many ways represents the future of experience.
At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.“
“In a matter of weeks, and in some cases days or hours, many businesses have pivoted because of the pandemic to meet the needs of their customers and offer a completely different customer experience (CX). Similarly, hospitals and medical practices have started to pivot their business model to focus on telemedicine, and many small businesses that were never in the delivery space have shifted quickly so they can continue to bring goods and services to customers—and remain profitable during a challenging time.
But the private sector is not the only space innovating and taking a customer-centered approach to the public health crisis. Government agencies have also had to shift in significant ways to operate in this unique environment and interact with citizens differently. Here are just a few examples of what federal organizations have done in a very short period of time to continue meeting their mission to serve citizens:
On April 15, the IRS launched the Get My Payment web tool so the millions of Americans who will receive stimulus checks can track the status of their payment. Shortly after deploying this tool the IRS began monitoring usage trends and customer feedback to drive the creation of coronavirus stimulus-specific FAQ content and iterative agile application improvements. The IRS has been, and will continue, deploying updates several times each week since launch.
In order to stay accountable to the public and report on the nearly $3 trillion stimulus funds, the Treasury Department is updating the Data Act systems to update its tools to account for increased submission requirements by agencies spending CARES Act money. The department is making that information available to the public on USAspending.gov and the Data Lab in new visualizations and data downloads.
In order to re-open recreation areas safely and in accordance with safe distancing guidelines, federal land management agencies are using Recreation.gov as one of their tools to provide advanced reservations, manage visitation volume, distribute information, and offer online payment solutions to visitors.
And the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services pivoted up to 20 percent of its talent pool, at times, to fast-paced response efforts—including the development of authentication technology for the Paycheck Protection Program run out of the Small Business Administration and which is keeping so many businesses afloat.
Moving Toward Networked Customer Experiences
In both the private and public sectors, customers are expecting interactions that are seamless, with access to a collection of features simultaneously. We refer to this as a “networked” experience model, where customers create value with multiple providers, and the experience depends on the value those providers deliver collectively. There are still experience challenges that are unique to government given its organizational and mission complexity.
There will be a time soon when those responsible for delivering federal services like social security, veterans’ benefits, and medical programs will be able to rethink the entire customer interaction. At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.
It’s clear that a networked services model has in many ways operationalized during this public health crisis, in which customer experience has taken on heightened significance. Federal organizations can’t afford major missteps, and agency leaders should take advantage of support resources for help navigating this complex new normal. Over the past few years several organizations and programs have been established, including the United States Digital Service, OPM Labs, GSA’s 18F and their IT Modernization Center of Excellence for Customer Experience, to help agencies evolve with a rapidly changing experience landscape. Lighthouse agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and Lead Agency Partners (such as the Department of Veterans Affairs) for customer experience have had fully operational CX practices in place since before the crisis, and their models can serve as a blueprint for others along their experience journeys.”
“Federal agencies are evolving from leveraging rote robotic processing bots in their acquisition operations toward more complex artificial intelligence processes to inject even more efficiencies into contracting.“
“We do have seeds of true AI sprouting” for federal acquisition applications, Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi, director of the Acquisitions Centers of Excellence in the General Services Administration said during a Defense One June 3 virtual event on automation in acquisition.
While robotic process automation (RPA) bots that handle rote, repetitive chores and free up humans for other work are increasingly common, AI is more complicated, according to Ghaffari-Tabrizi.
GSA uses a bot to track, find and change Section 508 disability clauses in contracts to ensure compliance, and that work is more advanced than just rote processing he said. That review, he said, takes “some degree of intelligence,” but the output is always reviewed by humans to ensure accuracy.
While RPA bots can be implemented relatively quickly based on automating established processes, AI takes more time and expertise because it forges new paths in processes and data, by finding new ways to traverse both, said Michelle McNellis, who is also a director of acquisitions at GSA.
GSA has been at the forefront of implanting bots, with dozens automatically performing repetitive electronic processes, such as automating the work associated with processing offers under the Federal Acquisition Service’s Multiple Award Schedules as well as an invoice notification bot.
It’s also using bots for its FASt Lane, eOffer and eMod processes, said Ghaffari-Tabrizi. FASt Lane is the agency’s program to accelerate how IT contractors get new products onto its buying schedules, while eOffer/eMod allow vendors to submit modifications to their contracts.
Other federal agencies looking to harness similar RPA capabilities, said McNellis, should move deliberately, getting input from all agency operations, including finance, IT, acquisition and management. Legal issues and IT capabilities need to be addressed before moving ahead with either AI or RPA efforts, she said.”
The undersigned was on the staff of one of the design companies for the gun system of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle development program. I witnessed first hand one of the most costly weapons system development programs in history.
I cannot help but observe that we are undergoing a similar debacle for the Bradley’s replacement. The bottom line question: With Pandemic and civil unrest economic impact today, can we afford to embark on the equivalent of a re-release and update of the famous HBO Movie, “Pentagon Wars”?
“TASK AND PURPOSE“:
“The Army will likely end up spending upwards of $1.57 billion to develop a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that’s served the U.S. military for nearly four decades, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office — and that’s just for a fleet of prototypes.
As of January 2020, the service had doled out roughly $366.64 million in funding as part of a middle-tier acquisition program for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle Increment 1 the service initiated in September 2018, according to the GAO report.
The Army is expected to spend another $1.2 billion to procure 14 prototype vehicles apiece from two separate defense contractors, an acquisition that, planned for this past March, fell apart when the service cancelled its solicitation in January in order to “revisit the requirements, acquisition strategy and schedule” prior to prototyping.
The cancellation was reportedlyprompted by the fact that the service only received one bid, from General Dynamics Land Systems, for the OMFV prototyping competition, as Army leaders told Defense News at the time.
According to the GAO report, the Army had previously planned on handing out an initial production contract award in late fiscal year 2023 and fielding the initial replacement vehicle by some time in early fiscal year 2026, but those dates are now up in the air due to the January cancellation.
“Officials stated that Army leadership is still committed to moving forward with the program, but they will need to reassess the achievability of their requirements within the desired timeframe,” according to the GAO report.
As Task & Purpose previously reported, the OMFV — part of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program — is just the latest attempt to replace the Bradley that has spanned nearly two decades.
In 1999, the Army adopted the Future Combat Systems (FSC) Manned Ground Vehicles (MGV) program was initiated as part of a broad effort to make the service’s legacy forces “lighter, more modular, and — most importantly — more deployable,” as the Army put it at the time.
That program was cancelled a decade later in 2009 and immediately replaced with the Ground Combat Vehicle program in 2010, which sought to replace the Bradley with the a Ground Combat Infantry Fighting Vehicle before being cancelled in 2014 amid rising costs and expanding requirements.”
“The basic idea behind a procurement challenge is that the government announces a problem it seeks to have solved. Anyone may then submit their solution, and the government chooses a winner or winners.
You don’t need to be an expert on government procurement to submit an entry. There is no proposal — it is a great example of the idea of “show, don’t tell” that should be more important in government procurement in general.“
“Many blog readers will be aware that I have over the years been a big fan of challenges (also known as prizes) as a procurement technique.
When it announces a challenge, the government also specifies a monetary prize (hence the moniker “contest”) and further steps the government might take to support the winner or winners.
I first wrote enthusiastically about these way back in 2009, based on a DARPA contest for developing an all-terrain vehicle. Most recently I wrote about the Army using a challenge to develop a better and cheaper ventilator in the context of COVID-19. I have written, and continue to believe, that the use of challenges in procurement is the most significant procurement innovation of the last decade.
Challenges have varied from very elementary and not very consequential (e.g. a contest to develop an agency logo) to much more mission-critical. For example, a few years ago the IRS conducted a challenge to design an online experience that more clearly and easily organizes and presents a person’s tax information, including ways to more easily use tax data to help people with other financial decisions, such as applying for a loan.
However, even more difficult and complex challenges have up to now been one-off efforts: the government publishes the challenge, bidders respond, and the government chooses winners. Now, though, the Department of Veterans Affairs has published an RFI for a challenge that will take this procurement tool where it has never been before. VA officials are seeking to develop approaches to reduce suicide among veterans.
The agency is envisioning creation of a user-friendly platform where veterans (and possibly others in at-risk groups) can gain enhanced access to a range of suicide-prevention services, such as scheduling, assessments and mental health resources, while preserving their identities and privacy. The VA also hopes to personalize and customize services to directly meet veterans’ needs and recognize certain risks in users’ personal lives, information about care paths and more.
The VA’s vision is that the platform would involve automated learning to update information provided the user. Data analytics and AI would learn from the “user journey” through the VA ecosystem, adapting and responding to the individual user’s needs, fears and concerns. Over time, the information presented to that user would be increasingly curated for their specific needs.
Not only is the topic of the challenge difficult and high-visibility — about as far from designing an agency logo as you can get — but the way the challenge will be organized will be far more ambitious than any the government has attempted in the past. The VA will be doing a procurement not for the challenge itself but to manage challenges that then would be put out for submissions.
As the VA puts it in their RFI, “the chosen partner would need to provide management support services necessary to help build the program from the ground up—and seamlessly execute the competition from beginning to end. The dedicated collaborator would support the delivery of everything from the timeline, scope and design of the complex challenge, to technical support, Though VA would provide some of those funds, said. in raising money for the prizes winners will receive. “the hope is the vendor would be able to facilitate outreach and increase fundraising for the prize purse, so that it’s not just taxpayer-funded money that goes to support this effort, but actually potentially private funds from companies and others who are interested in solving this problem,” the VA states.
This will be a complex and large enough activity that the VA doesn’t have the bandwidth to do it with in-house resources. So, to allow development of challenges at scale, it is actually seeking to let a contractor organize that effort.
This is a first, and an amazing innovation by the VA. The idea has been shepherded by the VA’s Chief Innovation Officer Michael Akinyele. It was in the works before COVID-19, but the explosion of unemployment will make the suicide problem worse and hence has prompted the VA to move the effort faster.
If this works, it will add an important new tool to the government’s contracting toolkit, available to others across government. VA, congratulations on a great idea, and good luck making it work.”
“The upcoming Palmetto Tech Bridge will be the sixth office. Other locations include: Newport, Rhode Island; Keyport, Washington; San Diego; Orlando, Florida; and Crane, Indiana.
Michael Merriken, director of the Palmetto Tech Bridge, said the office will be concentrating on autonomous systems, cybersecurity and communications. Specific problem sets will be determined by the Navy, he noted.
Cmdr. Sam “Chubs” Gray, director of Tech Bridges, said the centers are a platform that each of the regional offices can utilize to better connect to different resources. The service wants to tap into Charleston’s advantages, such as the city’s academic community and technology sector, Gray noted.
Charleston’s community will be particularly useful for exploring 5G technologies, Merriken said. The service hopes that will allow it to leverage industry input early in the technology development process.
“5G is a great example of a technology that’s really being led by industry,” he said. “This is where Tech Bridge really comes into play. We want to have that ability to connect with industry and collaborate with them.”
Because some of the Tech Bridge participants will be members of industry, many of the technologies may be dual-use systems that will be profitable for commercial companies as well, Merriken noted.
“We work with these solution sets to then build this product that eventually goes to the warfighter, and then the commercial folks can take that technology and then build it into some product that they can use,” he said.
Initially, researchers will be examining artificial intelligence solutions for network diagnostics, he said.
Merriken said developers are still examining specific locations for the Tech Bridge in Charleston. However, the Navy hopes to find a building that fosters teamwork with features such as meeting rooms and quiet rooms, he said.
“We’re looking for a space that we can have these people collaborate and work together,” he said.”
“More interagency collaboration, greater engagement with stakeholders and seamless interactions between agencies and the public are some of what’s needed for the federal government to excel in the years ahead.“
“That’s according to the Partnership for Public Service, which published a report on the future of IT, the federal workforce and data modernization efforts.
The report, written in collaboration with EY and published Feb. 5, is the product of months of interviews and workshopping with policy makers, industry experts and agency leaders. Some of the solutions addressed common complaints like siloed IT systems, inefficient competition between agencies and unsatisfactory customer experiences. It encouraged agencies to collaborate internally and with other agencies and to increase engagement with private-sector partners and the general public.
“When IT modernization first took place and we started with the Centers of Excellence, it was really about one agency taking a particular problem, solving that problem, and then sharing it,” Department of Agriculture Chief Information Security Officer Venice Goodwine said in a panel discussion on the report. “There’s no need to spend the money building something that’s already been built. To [build an interconnected government], we need to leverage investments that other agencies have already made.”
Goodwine said the ideal model would be having one Center of Excellence for each shared service that could act as the point of contact across the federal government.
Department of Veterans Affairs’ Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton said that as customers have become accustomed to quick, frictionless service from private companies such as Amazon, federal agencies look slow and inefficient in comparison, leading to frustration. Reorienting services to address customers’ needs would be a key first step to changing the government’s reputation as unreliable and inert.
“In the next five or 10 years, the way we meet demand will be by listening and orienting around customers’ needs, rather than putting the bureaucracy first,” Morton said at the panel. “The expectations for us are being set outside of government. … It is our obligation to be able to catch up and meet those new needs.”
Nancy Potok, the former chief statistician for the Office of Management and Budget, concurred, adding that increasing engagement with external organizations would be one solution.
“Agencies should be encouraged to partner with outside companies and entities that are really good at this,” she said. “It’s true that the public has been now very well trained to expect instant service.”
Focusing on customer experience skills during hiring and in employees’ daily work would also help foster accountability and a service-oriented culture so workers can better meet the new demands being made of their agencies.
“When people get supervisor training, they learn the rules. They learn compliance and how to fill out a performance evaluation. That’s not the skill set we need in today’s world,” Potok said. “We shouldn’t let anyone into a supervisory position until we’re sure that they have collaboration skills, that we’ve worked on their emotional intelligence, that they’re problem solvers, that they’re willing to take some risks.”
Agencies like the VA have taken the extra step of not only encouraging those skills in their workers, but actually writing them into official policy.
“In the department, we have core values and characteristics codified into our regulations such as integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence,” Morton explained. “We amended the regulations to include customer service principles as part of our core values. We updated our [Senior Executive Service] performance metrics as well, to include customer experience. To drive this culture change, to reorient, we need to consider customer service to also be part of our regulations and our core values.”
“Unlike corporate America and the military, which systematically groom their leaders from Day One, the federal government’s approach is generally uncoordinated across agencies and not well-informed by research or best practices.
Ensuring that new generations of federal leaders are prepared for the challenges we all know are on the horizon is vital to our national interests and the functioning of government.“
“Developing the next generation of leaders for the federal government should be one of the highest priorities that Congress and federal agencies have. A new report finds that federal government agencies must increase efforts to prepare those leaders for the realities of a 21st century, which include unexpected and disruptive changes brought about by new technologies, changes in climate and demographics, and an uprooting of alliances and previously agreed upon social norms and practices.
The report — “Preparing the Next Generation of Federal Leaders: Agency-Based Leadership Development Programs,” released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and co-authored by myself, James Perry from Indiana University, and Jenny Knowles Morrison and Gordon Abner of the University of Texas — found that there are some exemplar leadership development programs throughout government at agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Agriculture — but that such agency programs need to be expanded more widely.
Our report found that current programs “… are akin to having many different pilot programs convening simultaneously with neither a rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of those programs nor any coordinated effort to enhance next rounds of programming.”
This has consequences when public confidence in the federal government is at an all-time low.
“Just two-in-10 Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (4 percent) or ‘most of the time’ (16 percent). Nearly seven-in-ten (68 percent) say they trust the government to do what’s right only some of the time and 11 percent volunteer the response that they never trust the government,” a 2017 Pew Foundation study found. This compares to the 1960s when 85 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing.
Without career federal leaders in the executive branch being perceived as capable of navigating the complex and challenging environment the government operates within, the American taxpayer will continue to doubt whether government is delivering value to them. And for good reason — the U.S. government is the nation’s largest employer (2.6 million career civil servants) and those civil servants implement a $4.4 trillion annual budget that touches the lives of all Americans on a daily basis.
Effective leadership can help to increase public confidence that full value can be delivered to Americans for this enormous investment.
So we know the problem, but do we know the cure? The IBM Center report provides strong evidence that it is long past time to continue neglecting how we develop our leaders in the federal government and is a clarion call for action.
Like with the military and corporate America, the executive branch of the federal government needs a culture and practice of systematically developing leaders. Our study demonstrated that effective leadership development programs exist, and that if properly resourced and implemented will produce the talented career leaders our government requires.
The report contains many recommendations, including identifying the factors that enable successful leadership development programs to thrive in the federal government.
Our most important recommendation is to stop treating developing our next generation of leaders as an afterthought and accept that this is a national priority of the highest order.
Retirements among baby boomers are accelerating and government is having a tough time attracting new generations to government service (only 6 percent of the current workforce is under the age of 30).”
“When the Air Force identified fire protection suits as a target for better management, the priority was improving firefighter safety by standardizing equipment. Market analysis had revealed that assembling fire protection ensembles using boots, helmets, gloves and suits bought from different suppliers was a safety problem. It took more training to learn to properly use equipment from different manufacturers, and that opened the possibility for dangerous errors. Mismatched pieces also could expose firefighters’ skin to chemicals and burns.
Buying from a Defense Logistics Agency contract wound up costing more than necessary because the Air Force wasn’t aggregating its demand. Pricing was based on orders from individual bases rather than on the average of 5,000 ensembles bought every year for 10,500 firefighters Air Force-wide.
Benchmarking fire departments in New York and California showed that they buy standard suits for all their firefighters and develop longstanding relationships with the suppliers. So, Air Force firefighters narrowed down their requirements to an overall ensemble configuration. That led to a reduction from 109 to 14 contract line items and 14 contracts to nine—one for chem-bio boots, five for ensemble pieces, and three for suit care and support. The changes saved $1.1 million in fiscal 2018, alone.’
Now, an Air Force directive has made these contracts mandatory, so savings should increase, releasing more funds to buy protective suits and to move to other critical readiness requirements.
In the Air Force’s best-in-class business approach to category management, contracts aren’t the main event. In fact, while the strategy rarely leaves current practice unaltered, it doesn’t always end with changed or new contracts.
Instead, Air-Force-style category management delivers a range of demand-shaping, policy and process improvements aimed at achieving desired outcomes, saving on outlays and redirecting resources to increase readiness and lethality.
Even when category management is focused on improving solutions, it also saves money and improves processes.
The Air Force category management approach can wring efficiency from a mammoth contract like the General Service Administration’s IT Schedule 70.
Agencies come to IT 70 with their individual buys and often end up paying higher prices than they could be. When a company sees an order for 50 printers, it has no idea or expectation that tomorrow another order for 50 or 100 is coming, so it prices according to 50. The Air Force sought to harness the full power of having a bigger contract.
It created a computing blanket purchase agreement (BPA) on IT 70. Every six months, the Air Force puts its entire client computing demand up for bid on the BPA and provides the winner all the Air Force orders for the following six months. The Air Force gives bidders its historical spend data. Eyeing that demand, contractors sharpen their pencils and might even take a loss in the first three months, planning to make it up plus more in the next three because they are confident the orders will be there.
Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings, as demonstrated in the case of taxiway lighting. Air Force airfield taxiways need to be lighted at night, and they require a lot of light bulbs. The Air Force was using incandescent bulbs in taxiway fixtures, and they often burned out. Every time one did, a civil engineering troop had to drive a truck out to change the bulb.
Those out-and-backs were creating big manpower and materiel costs. Bases were spending an enormous amount on lighting, not even accounting for the cost of electricity. Shifting demand to substitute LEDs for incandescent bulbs increased bulb life expectancy 100 times, reduced electricity costs by 60%, achieved off-the-charts civil engineering process cost reduction, and is on track to save $4.7 million over 10 years.
Improving outdated or inefficient policies, as in the case of an Air Force elevator maintenance directive, can produce impressive savings by itself. With every base handling its own elevator maintenance contracts, the Air Force Installations Contracting Center (AFICC) had expected that imposing one big contract would be the right way to generate savings. But it turned out that the Air Force hadn’t updated its elevator maintenance policy in 30 or 40 years, even though elevator technology had evolved significantly.
The policy required monthly and quarterly inspections. Because it was an Air Force directive, no base could deviate from it. It wasn’t that costs were so out of line, it was that the policy, and thus the requirement, was out of date. So, AFICC wrote a standardized requirement based on current private sector best practice—some elevators now self-report when they need repairs, for example—and collapsed maintenance costs by 27%.
Follow the Air Force Model
In 2018, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the other military services to adopt the Air Force’s business-oriented category management approach.
Now, the Army is standing up five categories for an Army-wide program and category management is the number two priority for Army acquisition. AFICC is helping the Defense Health Agency and other federal organizations apply the Air Force approach. Air Force category managers also are cooperating with those leading the governmentwide program.
Government-wide category management performance measures such as increasing spend under management (SUM) and moving up the governmentwide program’s tiers of SUM can be important metrics for some purposes, but they don’t change incentives. They won’t help reinvest money from support to mission. They won’t add rigor to focus category management on the spending that will produce the greatest return on investment, and they won’t correct the mistaken belief that a bigger contract is always better.
By tracking the savings from reducing common spending and apportioning those dollars to successful category management practitioners, the Air Force is attempting to move the incentives from “spend all your money on time” to “spend as intelligently as possible.” With help from financial managers, those who take a business approach like the Air Force’s to category management will be able to free up cash flow to invest in mission capabilities.
The United States must move faster than our adversaries can keep up. This requires thinking critically and seeking mission-focused business opportunities. The Air Force example demonstrates that aligning incentives and protecting and encouraging disruptive thinkers and actors can spread exceptional outcomes governmentwide.”
“As federal procurement continues to evolve, simplifying how we purchase basic commodities will allow agencies to focus more on work that directly serves their missions,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “Federal agencies spent approximately $260 million using online portals last year, and it is critical that we use the Commercial Platforms program to better understand and manage this spend.”
The program is a requirement of Section 846 in fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. As such this initiative has been in the works for a while — a draft of this new solicitation was first posted in July. Through market research and feedback from stakeholders, in response to the draft solicitation and industry days held before, GSA has decided to “start small” in its approach to this whole e-commerce thing.
“By using a proof of concept for the Commercial Platforms program, GSA is able to start testing implementation of the program with a small group of interested agencies and utilize actual purchase and spend data to analyze results and then refine the program approach as lessons are learned,” Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, wrote in a blog post in July. “This allows us to test an innovative purchasing channel while also mitigating risk before developing the next phase of the program. ”
The solicitation will be open for 30 days, GSA says. Implementation of this proof of concept, which will be done in partnership with multiple e-commerce platform providers, is expected to occur in “early 2020.”
The e-commerce platform project is a key component of the Federal Marketplace Strategy, GSA’s initiative meant to modernize the federal acquisition experience for both buyers and sellers.
GSA has kicked off the fiscal new year with a bang, both with the launch of this e-commerce solicitation as well as the on-time consolidation of its Multiple Award Schedules program, which it announced it completed Tuesday.“