Over the past several months, Ardent Partners and IBM-Emptoris have worked to bring together several best-in-class chief procurement officers around specific themes with the express aim of garnering the best ideas, strategies, and practices that these industry-renowned experts use to drive top-flight results at their respective enterprises. Each roundtable is conducted via phone, recorded, and provided as a podcast for listeners to take advantage of the insights. Those interested can here the full CPO Virtual Roundtable can do so by clicking here (no reg required).

We were fortunate to have Bill McNally, deputy chief acquisition officer at NASA, who directs procurement across the entire space agency, join our CPO Roundtable discussion. I was also able to sit down with him and dive deeper into NASA’s unique procurement needs and operations. Today’s article will profile McNally, his role at NASA, as well as NASA’s overall procurement mission and how he and his team are responsible for supporting one of the world’s most renowned scientific institutions.

From Airman to Spaceman: Bill McNally’s Ascent into NASA Procurement

Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bill McNally is a true procurement professional who has served for nearly forty years in the public sector, including 10 years at NASA and 26 years in the United States Air Force. He has had a long career in government filled with many accomplishments while advancing the acquisition and procurement needs of both civilian and military agencies.

McNally began his career in the Air Force in the late 1970s and worked his way into some notable space and weapons programs. He served as a contract administrator and industrial specialist for the Atlas Space Program, as well as a contracting officer and manager for the Tomahawk cruise missile program. McNally then went on to serve as the Director of Technology Contracts at the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (since renamed the Missile Defense Agency). From there, McNally served as commander of a defense plant office where he oversaw the performance of a major defense contractor. He got involved in acquisition policy as the Chief of Air Force Contracting Policy, and later as the Military Deputy in the Secretary of Defense’s Acquisition Reform Office. McNally then went on to various leadership and teaching positions at both the Defense Systems Management College and Defense Acquisition University before retiring from the Air Force in 2003.

Upon retiring, McNally went to work for two government contractors as a senior acquisition manager, where he provided consulting expertise and training to the Pentagon, NASA, and other federal agencies, for projects ranging from the Pentagon Renovation Program to, most recently, NASA’s Exploration Systems Architecture Study. McNally was hired by NASA in October 2005 as a special procurement advisor in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, where he continued to provide expertise on such things as the development of the Ares and Orion space vehicles.

Returning to the Mother Ship: McNally Rejoins Government

In September 2007, McNally was appointed to Assistant Administrator for Procurement and Deputy Chief Acquisition Officer at NASA – roles that he continues to hold today. In his dual roles, he directs procurement functions throughout the space agency. McNally also is responsible for issuing agency procurement guidance and policy, and representing the space agency vis-a-vis Congress, the White House, the private sector and foreign countries.

McNally leads the procurement mission at NASA, an agency with diverse missions, including research and exploration in the many disciplines of space science, aeronautics, space technology and human space exploration– a critical element of which is the International Space Station. To support domestic and international space projects, NASA operations are conducted at 10 Centers throughout the United States.

Space exploration carries inherent risks.  McNally believes such risk can extend to procurement in any organization, but is particular aware how this risk can be amplified in an agency with a particularly unique mission. . As a result, McNally and his team of acquisition and procurement professionals have a harder job than many others in government who issue contracts and financial assistance to support government operations.

In addition to contracts, NASA issues grants and cooperative agreements. McNally’s responsibilities are to conduct risk assessments for such funding programs and then issue policy and recommendations. When appropriate, Mcnally also gets involved in the source selections and negotiations on major procurements.

Government-Wide Influence

On the acquisition side, McNally is one of three signatories of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which provides “a consistent regulation for industry to do business with the federal government.” In this role, McNally, along with appointees from the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense, helps to centralize and set the acquisition policy not only for NASA, but also for the U.S. government as a whole. It’s a tall order, indeed. But for a man who has served nearly 40 years in government and earned such accolades as the NASA Exceptional Service medal, Air Force Legion of Merit, and many Joint and Air Force Commendations Medals, it’s an order that McNally delivers upon every day.

Stay tuned for a closer look at how McNally and his team of acquisition and procurement professionals at NASA support the space agency’s mission.


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