Department of Homeland Security acquisition teams have increased their use of innovative procurement practices despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the department is working to scale up these efforts moving forward, a DHS official said on Tuesday.

During fiscal year 2020, 38 DHS procurement teams received coaching support from the Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) for their awards, a 124 percent increase over FY ’19, Polly Hall, director of the PIL, said during the sixth DHS Strategic Industry Conversation, which is being held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

“While the pandemic has certainly been a challenge, one thing it has highlighted is the need for agility and adaptability in the procurement process,” Hall said as part of a panel discussion on contracting activities at some DHS components. Regarding the increase in coaching help through the PIL, she said it “Really speaks to the need for figuring out ways to deliver missions faster and better.”

The PIL was established in 2015 by Soraya Correa, the DHS chief procurement officer, to experiment with innovative procurement techniques, accept more risk, institute best practices, lower barriers to entry for non-traditional DHS contractors, shorten time to award, and boost the likelihood of successful contracting outcomes. The PIL also includes coaching support for procurement offices across DHS.

Hall said that continuing the coaching support is a “key priority” of her lab going into FY ’21, adding that, “The feedback we have received from program offices, from the contracting officer, and from industry participants in procurement innovation solicitations, we’ve identified that having support of a PIL coach really has been part of the success formula.”

The PIL is also working with heads of contracting in various components to build on lessons learned so far, she said.

Hall also said that the pandemic hasn’t deterred DHS acquisition teams from finding new ways of doing business.

There hasn’t been a return to “business as usual but rather they’ve scaled and moved out with truly new approaches to delivering mission,” Hall said. Video conferencing and other low-cost business methods are being used along with technical demonstrations, oral presentations, and virtual collaboration are ongoing so that acquisition teams “are not focused on siloed approaches to delivering procurement even as we work remotely,” she said.