Re-Imagining Government Supply Chain Management

This spring, the concept of supply chains became a household discussion as families searched high and low for household staples like toilet paper, flour, and hand soap. However, supply chain for government is more complex than the supply and demand driven model for consumer goods. Government supply chains involve monitoring for security and foreign involvement. This means knowing where all parts of a solution were manufactured, programmed, and assembled.

Gregory C. Wilshusen, director of information security issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, noted that "supply chains can be long, complex, and globally distributed and can consist of multiple outsourcing tiers. As a result, agencies may have little visibility into, understanding of, or control over how the technology that they acquire is developed, integrated, and deployed."

This lack of visibility is due in part to incomplete vendor reporting. Not only do vendors have to manage all the pieces of their solution, but they themselves may be managed by multiple organizations in an agency. Reporting happens through numerous tools and is siloed, making it difficult to get a full picture of the chain that led to the delivery of a solution to a government agency.

While rigor is important in understanding the supply chain, many in government stress that it should not stand in the way of innovation. Will Roper, the Air Force's acquisition chief, stated that the Department of Defense (DoD) needs to pull in smaller start-up companies to deliver solutions desperately needed in the field. These companies may lack the resources needed to meet the demands of becoming a DoD prime contractor, but that should not be a barrier to their solutions being used. He advised moving off the defense prime model and launched the Air Force's AFVentures program to quickly bring these small, but innovative companies into the industrial base the DoD is able to employ.

Changes like this are hard and cannot happen overnight, but government has seen supply chain reform's promise in smaller pilot work like the effort around understanding the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. A multiagency effort collected commercial data on personal protective equipment from distributors to visualize the supply chain and help direct materials where they were needed most. IoT technologies also can play a key role in supply chains, monitoring specific locations of materials and having that data easily sharable between systems.

There are a number of events focused on the supply chain and supporting technologies that will help agencies better navigate the complexities.

  • IT Security in Emerging Technology (August 11, 2020; virtual) -- As federal agencies adopt emerging technologies such as Fifth-Generation Wireless Technology (5G), Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Cloud, they face new challenges in ensuring these technologies can operate securely on their networks. Government IT security experts will share knowledge, best practices, trends, and use cases. Sessions will focus on acquisition strategies and Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) for these technologies.
  • NIGP Forum 2020 (August 24-28; virtual) - This event aims to help procurement professionals solve procurement challenges, enhance agency effectiveness, and strategically advance community improvement initiatives. As tactics, tools, and technologies change in the world of public procurement, the NIGP Forum provides an opportunity to access these innovations early in a collaborative atmosphere.
  • FedHealth Conference (September 15, 2020; virtual) - Senior executives from across industry and government will come together to discuss critical policy and acquisition priorities in civilian and military health. Speakers from HHS, VA, and DoD will discuss their needs and challenges so that industry can better determine where the federal health market is headed.
  • Acquisition Excellence (October 6-7; virtual) - The theme of this year's conference is Surging Successes in Acquisition Innovation. The event will look at innovations that can improve every step of the acquisition process. It will also feature examples from the Institute for Innovation project, including the "Periodic Table of Acquisition Innovations," an online tool providing access to successful acquisition innovation case studies.

We'd love to hear your suggestions of events and resources available to understanding and better managing government supply chains. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to check out GovEvents for a complete listing of events, webinars and library of on-demand events.

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