Heather Dallara, vice president of Contracts at Amentum, spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding how industry and the government can develop greater collaboration to drive innovation as well as the ways that the company is working to improve the contract bidding process and ensure the long-term success of the federal workforce during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
You can read the full interview with Heather Dallara below.
ExecutiveBiz: How can industry and the federal government work together to increase greater collaboration and drive more innovative solutions for everyone to use to address the latest challenges of today?
Heather Dallara: “From my perspective, industry and the federal government are partners. Our government customers rely on companies in industry like Amentum and vice versa. We are very proud of our portfolio along with our one hundred-plus years of company history combined with significant subject matter expertise as well.
We’ve started talking about clean energy and green initiatives and how we can use our breadth of experience with customers like the Department of Energy (DOE) to help propel the nation forward in solving some of these challenges by utilizing innovative technology and bringing in brand new strategic partners to Amentum.
On behalf of the government, Amentum will continue to develop sustainable long-term solutions to challenges like clean energy. Mark Whitney is the president of our National Security group, which hosts our energy, intelligence, and environmental businesses.
Mark is laser-focused on how Amentum can take what we do inside of our portfolio and make specifically targeted investments, including technology, digital engineering, clean and green initiatives, or significant improvements in AI as well as the business process automation realm to really solve these problems and provide sustainable environmental and sustainment solutions for the future.
If we are advising a client, it is based on our decades of proven philosophy for how we can best accomplish their objective. I would argue that government and industry both have their own respective end goals, but we all share the common goal of solving the nation’s biggest problems together.
I’m also on the board of directors for the National Contract Management Association and one of our taglines is that we pride ourselves on being the neutral forum where industry and government can come together and have the hard conversations.
NCMA is a great space for industry leaders and government executives to encourage and support each other and participate in open dialogue to try new and different solutions. Continuing to do the same things we have always done will not get us where we want to go in the future. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. We need to be willing to be more open and pursue fresh ideas and solutions.
I think that as industry, we have a certain obligation to take on the risk and put skin in the game to articulate to our government partners how we can do something better, faster, and cheaper. We can tell them how to insert technology at the tip-top levels.
The government is very supportive. We just need to get into that middle layer of leadership and for the right people to get empowered and do the right thing for our collective future. For Amentum, it’s our job to understand how we can solve the communication-to-solution gap in the most responsible way for our clients and stakeholders, and for all of us as residents of this country.
All of us in industry are all being asked to step up and rise to the occasion. We are starting to establish and build trust. At the end of the day, this is an industry of relationships and we are leveraging the relationships to our partners to enable us to offer and provide different, innovative solutions.
We will make mistakes along the way and need to adjust, but through new opportunities, we will realize new capabilities to solve some of the environmental and sustainment problems facing our nation today.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are the most significant ways that Amentum is working to advance its contract bidding offerings and processes in order to drive company growth and establish yourself as a big player in the GovCon sector?
Heather Dallara: “Obviously, there are a lot of great things being done across the industry. I could mention the GSA feds in process or the DHS’s recent permanent innovation lab. I think there is a lot of credence to the down-and-select method.
Frankly, Industry doesn’t want to spend the money responding to a RFP if we don’t have a chance to win. So, the great things we are seeing where there are phased procurements or down select that allows industry to clear go/no-go gates before making the full investment in responding or developing a solution.
So asking ourselves as a community how we can structure acquisitions differently or n a way that sets the criteria, whether it’s approved systems or security-based requirements or organizational conflict of interest or more. We know that organizations are stepping up to out-of-the-box solutions. They will take risks in order to move into new areas.
I believe opening the contract bidding offering process up will create a new way to look at alternative solutions and accelerate everything while also being clear with the requirements following the RFP.
The bid protest process adds more time to the procurement process and is a major topic of conversation that everyone is looking at in terms of how Government and industry can look at the bid protest part of our business differently.
It does add a lot of time and money to the bidding and award process. Sometimes, organizations see value in protesting, especially if you are the incumbent. All of industry has their eyes wide open right now to this topic, including our partners across the federal government.
I think we have to get out of the regular cycle of bidding and processing. We should spend more of our time being active partners and developing trust. I’d like to see us learn how to break down those silos of distrust that will help us all get to a better place.
It is just as important for us to accomplish trust from a technology standpoint. Our technology is moving at an incredible speed that the standard five-year procurement cycle just doesn’t support, especially if we are talking about the latest and greatest.
The question moving forward is how we create a contract process that allows for outside-the-norm levels of flexibility and technology. We need to ensure that we don’t get buried in the paperwork. Itis also not just for today’s technology because there will be new technology six months or a year or more from now that will likely need to change the way the contract is structured.
For the long term, we have an obligation in industry to try to produce a better outcome that serves everyone. Oftentimes, our contract structures as well as our mindsets are so rigid and focused on the old ways. We must figure out a better way of creating contracts that allows for changes as the speed of innovation and technology continues to bring new challenges.”
ExecutiveBiz: How does your company ensure long-term success for your workforce to drive value for your employees as you continue to face the uphill challenge to recruit and retain the best talent in the federal marketplace?
Heather Dallara: “As a services capability and solutions provider, our organization is built upon having great talent – the very best. At Amentum, we truly value our people and desire our company to be a place where people want to work because they see themselves as valuable member of our team.
We often talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, but what does that actually look like in today’s business? It is a major topic for all of us, but it’s also about belonging. When people say they want to spend their career with Amentum, they need to see themselves represented across our team and business.
It is vitally important as leaders that we present an inclusive environment and create a strong sense of community and give our people a greater purpose to work here. Sometimes, that includes needing to meet people where they are in life.
It can be hard to connect, but we always encourage our contracts team to develop relationships and visit our customers in person. The act of finding that connection is a big component of who you are and how we are going to work together to solve these intense intelligence challenges. That drives our culture at Amentum and allows our relationships with our customers to flourish.
It is counterproductive for us all to fight over the same talent over and over. It is a recycled cycle for our collective federal and industry workforces. We all have numerous attraction and retention programs. Amentum’s talent programs have won awards.
However, retention is truly about creating these inclusive networks and communities that bring everything together and make people want to stay with their respective organizations. Another big part is bringing in new energized talent and keeping them engaged.
With everything that has changed over the past couple of years with telework, people are working where they want to work. It is no secret because we all worked through the pandemic. Amentum is forward-leaning in that space and it is something that we’ve embraced because we have gained access to people across brand-new markets that we had not previously considered.
Remote work has also been a great door of opportunity for those who couldn’t physically be on the East Coast or in the DC metro area. That is important because we are changing local communities for the better and reducing commute emissions. It is the whole picture and a holistic approach.
One big change isn’t going to solve every problem, but there is no better advocate for Amentum than our own employees. All of us here are so proud of our company culture and that our people love to come to work every day and make the world a better place for the future.”