For any government agency, working effectively with contractors and suppliers is paramount to success. The relationship between government and industry, in many ways, is the foundation for government effectiveness. And, when this relationship is nurtured through effective communications, there really is no limit to what government can achieve.
When agency and industry relationships are strained, it is very challenging to confront the issues that are thwarting effectiveness. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recently pulled off a pivotal play by undertaking a bold campaign to improve its supplier relationships through a comprehensive research effort to gauge industry perceptions and attitudes.
Three years ago, Maurice C. Stewart, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, lead an initiative called the Supplier Relationship Transformation (SRT) program. This effort involved surveying vendors, as well as hosting supplier forums throughout the country to obtain the critical feedback the VA needed to improve its supplier relations.
In response to negative feedback from suppliers, the VA set on a course to correct any lingering issues plaguing its relationships. Some of the issues that vendors had with the VA were inadequate communications, poor customer service, unclear roles of contracting officers, and its closed contracting process.
In a series of benchmark and follow up research efforts, the VA was able to improve how vendors perceive the agency. For example, the VA conducted its first survey in 2010 and scored a 3.5 or higher in only two areas. However, during its semi-annual follow up surveys, the VA scored 3.5 or higher in four areas.
Though the true pivotal play was the VA’s ability to act upon this research to course-correct its efforts. As such, the VA acquisition office formed an industry advisory group of 24 companies that meets quarterly to share best practices and provide insights for helping relationships with vendors. The agency also came up with governance council of acquisition leaders, as well as had the VA’s Technology Acquisition Center lead efforts to smooth out the procurement process.
In addition, Stewart made the Fed 100 list by Federal Computer Week for leading this effort and transforming the way the VA does business.
The combination of extensive research followed by taking direct action is clearly a pivotal play by the VA. This case study shows that any government agency can take the right steps in addressing any issue and improve performance.