Transforming how the federal government does anything is hard. And that’s an understatement. Transforming, changing, improving, innovating, and adapting constantly? Even harder. But that’s what DHS Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney is doing with procurement operations for an agency that spends around $100 billion a year. We often think of frontline people facing incredible odds, but with the responsibility of not only spending yet making sure that money is spent well, while also battling a nearly 40-year-old system of procurement rules in the FAR — with advancements like AI and chat GPT biting at his heels — Courtney must innovate at the speed of light.
To get everyone on the same page, Courtney issued his strategic plan in 2021 focused on empowering, collaborating, innovating and procuring both his staff and industry. Since then, he has leveraged existing resources and is tackling technological advancements head on. Leaning into the Procurement Innovation Lab, he is experimenting with new acquisition strategies and streamlining processes to help both industry and government. He is reorienting the procurement culture to be more risk-tolerant and mission-focused to meet the complexity of DHS’ mission requirements. Courtney also has his eye on the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence tools that can help the department improve but also come with challenges. He is looking at the rules of engagement for tools like ChatGPT and how such innovations can help his staff automate and procure better.
To meet all the demands, Courtney is pushing a data-driven culture to advance and promote best practices in a fail-fast, learn, and improve mentality. He is addressing hiring and training challenges by creating environments that mesh the “old” and “new” school of hybrid work that has evolved post-COVID. He’s focused on training that truly engages and connects staff with feedback loops. Courtney has also extended that feedback loop to industry, and is constantly honing the industry interactions hosted by the department while leveraging association relationships to encourage industry interaction and feedback.