New plan, ombudsman focus on strengthening industry engagement

By Dianne Ryder

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For many years, the Defense Logistics Agency has sought opportunities to engage with its industry partners and adopt their best practices. Now DLA’s Acquisition Directorate has a new DLA Industry Engagement Plan and an ombudsman to help implement the plan’s features.

Air Force Col. James Davis began working for DLA in the Joint Contracting Acquisition Support Office in May 2017 and then as deputy division chief for performance based logistics before being tapped for the ombudsman position, where he reports to Matthew Beebe, director of DLA Acquisition.  

“At first I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can’t keep a job,’” quipped Davis, who’s been DLA’s ombudsman since October 2017. “I’ve learned a lot within a short time about DLA, and I think this job [will allow me] to learn even more.” 

“The term ‘ombudsman’ has its purest form in the acquisition arena as someone who adjudicates concerns and issues from the larger contracting populace and business sector,” Davis said. “Having been a traditional ombudsman before, this wasn’t a far stretch for me.”  

The Federal Acquisition Regulation has always required that agencies have an ombudsman.  

“It’s expanding the traditional role of the ombudsman to be more proactive with an enterprise perspective at executing and ensuring the relationships between ourselves and our industry partners is good,” he said. “[I’m] like a corporate business adviser who’s trying to make sure that the right parties are able to work together to support their common interests.”  

Davis has also been instrumental in developing the agency’s Industry Engagement Plan along with initiatives aligned with its five focus areas. 

The plan and the ombudsman are just parts of the overall strategy, Davis noted. “We’re trying to increase meaningful communication and collaboration with our industry partners, showing we’re invested together to ultimately support our warfighters,” Davis said. 

Beebe addressed the importance of communicating the strategy to DLA’s workforce as well as industry.  

“There are times when our workforce has been hesitant to interact with industry, and sometimes that’s appropriate. But in many cases, we need to interact with industry in order to address readiness, innovation and many other things to build and maintain the trust of our partners,” he said.  

Through the plan, Beebe said he hopes industry will recognize DLA’s capabilities.  

“I don’t mean recognition on how good we are, but recognition that there are those different means of support; it’s a balance, and we need to keep working that balance,” he said. “It’s not always about price, it’s not always about competition, it’s not always about small business, it’s not always about readiness. It’s always about all of those.” 

Valuable industry feedback is another area Beebe hopes DLA employees will focus on.  

“At times we get feedback [that’s] very much one-on-one from a company to a contracting officer, but we’re not very good as an agency of capturing the enterprise trends derived from collecting the whole of the feedback,” he said.  

Beebe also stressed that the capstone events  listed in the plan should not be the only means of acquiring valuable feedback.  

“We’ve got to have multiple ways of gaining that feedback, because very often it gets tempered or filtered based on the moment,” Beebe said, explaining that industry leaders may be reticent to provide candid feedback if they wish to do business with DLA. 

DLA’s Industry Day, planned for Sept. 19 will be an important event dedicated to promoting interaction between government and industry. This includes forecasting the DLA strategic climate and future business opportunities.   

Beebe recently attended an event sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association — one of the associations DLA would like to engage with more actively. He said he overheard various industry partners saying they regularly dealt with DLA employees and wondered why he wasn’t aware of the interaction. 

“Do we each know that the association is working with different [DLA employees]? And are we coordinated in what we’re trying to get as an outcome in working with this association? We don’t have that strategy right now,” he said.  

“[Defense leaders] are saying the department needs to have a consistent message with the defense industrial base — but I need it to get to where we have a consistent DLA enterprise interaction message or expectation.” 

Beebe said DLA needs to use relationships with industry “to address obsolescence or to talk about intellectual property … Right now the strategy is very localized,” he said. 

“This IEP is not done; it’s only the start,” Beebe said. “Talking about a focus area isn’t accomplishing it. There’s a lot more that needs to be built into the plan and/or extended before we can claim major progress in any of these areas.” 

Even a year from now, after the plan has been distributed to DLA’s industry partners, the job still won’t be done, Beebe said. 

“I will probably be saying, ‘Boy, we learned a lot, and we might need to update this,’” he said. “There’s already a lot of dialog going on, it’s a matter of capturing it and finding out if the plan resonated. That discovery is continuous.” 

Beebe said the plan’s key points won’t be news to companies DLA has dealt with for years. 

“It’s really not this document [that’s new],” he said. “It’s the fact that we have a plan, a strategic framework, and we’re going to further our strategy to have additional interactions and have some consistency of what’s being communicated and capture the feedback at the level needed.”

Davis agreed. “We are constantly trying to improve the communication — leveraging what we’re doing now, but [doing] even more, with a strategic plan and a desired outcome.”

Agency employees can view the Industry Engagement Plan and related documents on the IEP webpage.