ExecutiveBiz recently spoke with Neil Albert, president of Advanced Concepts and Technologies International, about his company’s role providing acquisition services and information technology modernization to federal agencies.
“Cybersecurity is probably the most important area that the private sector can help … With more private sector-friendly contracting vehicles out there, like Other Transaction Agreements, I think a more collaborative relationship between the sectors would leverage and maximize their resources.
ExecutiveBiz: Congratulations on your recent appointment to president. How do you see ACT I positioning itself to maximize 2018?
Neil Albert: ACT I had a very good year in 2017. We bid throughout the year on multiple opportunities with a focus on using GSA’s OASIS contract. As you might expect, with long turnaround times for awards, many of our wins came at the end of the year, giving ACT I a great start for 2018. When I look at our backlog, I see a very robust upcoming year with our revenue increasing significantly. Of course, we will be vetting many new opportunities this year too, and I only hope we can have as good a win rate as we did last year. However, as president, I need to start refocusing the company on a more strategic path, looking at long-term opportunities, possible acquisitions and new areas for growth. Hopefully I can accomplish that in the next few years.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you talk a little bit about your work experience and what you feel has best prepared you for your new role?
Neil Albert: My longest and most relevant experience was as president and CEO of MCR for almost 20 years. I was able to climb the ladder from analyst to vice president during my first 10 years, helping to grow the company through maintaining and expanding our current business space, as well as creating new service offerings. I was appointed president and CEO in 1999, right before we were sold to AT&T. That was a challenging experience for me, because MCR was a small business now trying to exist as part of a very large business. The change from being a family-owned company to publicly-owned really transformed my perspective on the strategic course and management of the company – particularly from a financial perspective. After five years with AT&T, we were sold to an investor who better understood our business and market, which allowed us to start again as a small, privately-owned business.
Through this unique experience, I learned how to lead the business and better understand the marketplace we supported. As a result, MCR was reinvented by focusing on our core competencies, as well as adding skills and capabilities we gained from AT&T. We expanded into new business areas such as integrated program management in both the U.S. and international markets. By 2012, MCR had grown by almost 500 percent.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see that the public and private sector could work together to improve the federal acquisition process?
Neil Albert: This is really a work in progress. The private sector is obviously interested in supporting the federal market, but the existing barriers are often too rigid for companies to take the chance. For example, in the DoD, oversight of partner companies is common practice for those who support the department. However, for the private sector, particularly small and high technology companies, this oversight is very onerous. Yet, government needs the private sector’s help because they bring new technologies and capabilities that have been developed without public sector limitations placed on them. As a result, the public sector has now found a way to get more of these skills. Whether it’s through the DIUx or other new contracting concepts, government is finding new ways to get private sector partners.
Finally, for me, cybersecurity is probably the most critical area that the private sector can help. Cyber attacks are hurting the U.S. in both sectors. With more private sector-friendly contracting vehicles, like Other Transaction Agreements, a more collaborative relationship between the sectors would leverage and maximize their resources.
ExecutiveBiz: Regarding Foreign Military Sales and the DoD’s desire to accelerate the process, what can we expect in 2018 towards accomplishing that goal?
Neil Albert: I think process acceleration is a promising idea, particularly with the increase of FMS opportunities. But we must be very careful about what we’re accelerating. In my opinion, a major weakness of the FMS process is the upfront discussions. This process needs to be focused on early discussions with purchasers, understanding their requirements, and helping them with their interaction with the DoD. I believe not enough effort has been put into this concept. With these types of efforts, the DoD can tailor its systems to the purchaser’s needs and ensure they are more informed as to any changes by keeping communication lines open. If you don’t carry out these discussions on the front end, either the government or the purchaser may not understand what it needs to complete the deal.
ACT I has played this “go-between” role for several years and we have seen an improvement in the process, but it has been a one-off type of experience. Not all stakeholders are performing these types of discussions. It involves working with both the country buying the system and the DoD. For the country, we help them understand what the department is offering and at what price. For the DoD, we help them understand the country’s technical requirements, help determine the cost analysis impacts, as well as provide strategic advice and negotiation support. Accelerating these efforts will make for all a smoother and more effective FMS buying experience.
ExecutiveBiz: What trend in the government services market do you plan to observe closely this year?
Neil Albert: I have two key areas I’m watching. The first is the acquisition changes within the DoD, shifting ownership and approval of all ACAT I programs [Major Defense Acquisition Programs] from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the service branches. I am worried that this change may overwhelm the services. It’s a lot of responsibility to place on them, all at one time. They haven’t performed these duties at this level before, and I am afraid they don’t have the expertise and experience in place to take this on. We’re talking somewhere in the range of 90 ACAT I programs alone, spread across three branches on top of all the ACAT II and III programs they will still be managing.
This transition needs time to be implemented so the services can get up to speed with trained and experienced contractual, programmatic and financial personnel support. Otherwise, I fear this is going to be a very difficult year with a lot of delays in procurement and acquisition activities. They need to be much better equipped.
My second concern is how contracts are going to be awarded and managed. As you know, we’ve been living in a Lowest Price Technically Acceptable environment for too many years. If we continue that approach, we’re going to keep hindering innovation, personnel growth, and the financial incentives companies need to maintain a strong and talented workforce.
I recognize that the latest National Defense Authorization Act made a big push to reduce the use of LPTA, but it really needs to do more. These declarations have been made consistently over the last four or five years, but nothing has changed. In addition, the government is continuously using LPTA as a “protest proof” concept, which only exacerbates the problem. We must ensure contracts are awarded based on the proposed plan for the work being accomplished and the company’s performance against that plan. Companies need to be measured by not only what they do, but also what they provide in innovation necessary to help improve how government performs, and ensuring efficiencies are in place.
Before joining ACT I, Neil Albert was the president and chief executive officer of MCR, which he helped grow from $25 million to $150 million in revenue. He has more than 35 years’ experience supporting federal agencies in strategy development, acquisition management, cost assessment, program and project management, and risk analysis.