Clinton Campaign: We Would’ve Made Procurement Great Again

Federal Contracts Report™ delivers concise, authoritative reports covering the complete spectrum of issues affecting the federal acquisition of goods and services, to keep you abreast of policies...

By Sam Skolnik

Why would the Hillary Clinton campaign's final procurement policy paper be of interest these days? In part because a couple of the memo's co-authors believe its ideas might appeal to the Donald Trump administration.

The Clinton campaign paper obtained be Bloomberg BNA, titled “Transforming Procurement,” was authored by a group of 13 acquisition experts, including several who worked in the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. The paper pitches ideas that would make the federal procurement process more efficient, transparent and open to creative thinking.

Two of the co-authors say the paper includes several government reform recommendations that might also interest Trump and his incoming acquisition team—and, by extension, federal contractors.

Paper co-author Nick Sinai, the former U.S. deputy chief technology officer under Obama, told Bloomberg BNA in an emailed statement that in fact, most of the Clinton campaign paper’s ideas could be of interest to the incoming Republican president.

“These are ideas that a Trump Transition can and should embrace—because they are still important and good for the American people,” he said.

‘Rebooting' the Bureaucracy

The seven-page memo includes a range of broad themes, including “Improve transparency and accountability,” “Manage and pay for results” and “Revamp IT procurement.” Some of the proposals have been pursued by the Obama administration and otherwise discussed for years as worthy reform ideas, including building on Obama’s $3.1 billion proposal, currently still sitting in Congress, for establishment of a revolving fund to spur federal agency IT modernization.

But the paper also includes some ambitious proposals—listed in part under the rubric of “rebooting” the government bureaucracy—including a “comprehensive plan” to modernize the hiring, training and development of the federal procurement workforce.

The proposals reflect the need for an acquisition reform effort that attacks on several fronts, including workplace culture, policy, systems and the acquisition workforce, Stan Soloway, one of the paper’s co-authors and president and CEO of Celero Strategies, a consulting group focused on the federal market, told Bloomberg BNA.

“We all really agreed on the need to transform the way the government buys,” said Soloway, the former long-time president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, a trade group for service contractors.

‘Spirit of Innovation.’

In addition to Soloway and Sinai, the Clinton procurement paper team included prominent names in the field such as Dan Tangherlini, a former director of the General Services Administration (GSA) under President Obama, and Steve Kelman, one of President Bill Clinton’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) administrators.

In addition to several think tank types and international procurement experts, several members of the group also have worked lengthy contracting industry stints, such as Kimberly “Kymm” McCabe, CEO of the consulting group Value Storm Growth Partners, and formerly the president of the professional services contracting group ASI Government.

The paper was sent to the Clinton campaign in mid-October, according to an e-mail from a campaign conduit to the co-authors that was forwarded to Bloomberg BNA. The memo was referred to as the “FINAL HFA Procurement Policy Paper” in the e-mail, referring to the name of Clinton’s campaign: Hillary for America.

The paper’s authors railed on the state of a federal bureaucracy they called “calcified and rigid.”

Clinton, they wrote, “recognizes that the vital spirit of innovation and creativity that is a hallmark of the American economy is not nearly as prominent in the operations of the federal government, particularly in procurement.

“Public servants with new ideas find themselves continually battling a bureaucracy that over decades has become calcified and rigid—effectively inhibiting new ideas and change,” they added.

Procurement Transparency

The paper promised that a Clinton administration would have provided “unprecedented levels” of transparency into federal contracting.

“From her many years in government, Hillary knows that federal spending tends to be highly opaque and that even many government officials, let alone the American public, have little visibility into where our tax dollars are going,” the paper’s authors wrote.

The paper promised that Clinton would appoint a Transparency Task Force, which would provide recommendations to make different types of procurement information—including “information about the actual prices the government is paying”—more publicly available.

Federal contract simplification has been an idea urgently talked about for years; contractors say many businesses, especially smaller companies, have decided not to wade into the federal market because of the complexities of the system and the related costs to decipher it. This is also something Clinton’s team vowed to tackle.

“President Clinton will work with Congress to develop a streamlined bidding process for contracts up to $10 million, making it easier for innovative companies of all sizes, including smaller companies and start-ups, to bid on federal work,” the authors wrote.

They added that Clinton also would direct the government to establish a “BidHelp” online tool and telephone hotline to help companies that are new to federal contracting navigate the process.

‘Cautiously Optimistic.’

There’s little reason why Trump’s procurement policy leaders, including the yet-to-be-appointed new directors of the GSA and OFPP, wouldn’t be interested in glomming onto some if not many of the Clinton team’s largely nonpartisan ideas, two of the papers co-authors said.

The notion of simplifying the contracting process in particular might be an idea that Trump would adopt, said Soloway. “I’d be very surprised if that was something that Trump didn’t look at seriously,” he said.

Soloway spoke on condition that this article note he was not the source of the leaked paper. He wasn’t.

Scaling innovation-focused federal IT reform efforts like GSA’s 18F program, which helps federal agencies build and share digital services, and the U.S. Digital Service, an office that among other things makes agency websites more user-friendly, also might appeal to Trump and his procurement team, said Sinai, who currently works as an adjunct lecturer with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as well as a venture partner with Insight Venture Partners, a global private equity and venture capital firm.

“These are bi-partisan ideas that have strong Republican champions too, so I’m cautiously optimistic the Trump Administration will also incorporate them,” said Sinai.

Tweet Storm

The Trump transition team has yet to lay out procurement policy plans as detailed as the Clinton paper. But the president-elect has increasingly been making it clear where he stands on at least one related issue: getting tougher on contractors over the prices government pays for goods and services.

The Trump transition team did not respond to questions from Bloomberg BNA by deadline.

The only mention on the transition’s greatagain.gov website that included the words “contract,” “procurement” or “acquisition” was a Dec. 14 report of a meeting that a Trump delegation had with more than a dozen tech leaders. During the meeting, one of the topics raised was “Introducing greater accountability in the government procurement process,” according to the report.

But Trump’s inclination to clamp down on contractors was made even clearer in a couple of his recent tweets earlier this month.

In the first, on Dec. 6, Trump ripped Boeing for the costs connected with its plans to build a new version of Air Force One. “Cancel order!” he tweeted.

In the second tweet, issued six days later and regarding the F-35 fighter jet being built by Lockheed Martin and several subcontractors, he promised that billions of dollars “can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases” after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Federal Contracts Report