Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Real Acquisition Reform Means

Stan Soloway, President and CEO of the Professional Services Council, wrote a great piece regarding the somewhat dishonest approach to the entire wave of acquisition reform and the focus on the contracting community. I have posted several times on the need for a total workforce concept, and the need to understand that contractors are performing a great service to our nation, filling key capability gaps, providing flexibility to help achieve the government’s mission, and also giving up their lives in defense of our country (here and here).

As Mr. Soloway points out, the memo by President Obama to the Office of Management and Budget reflects his philosophy on and commitment to performance, efficiency and accountability. Regretfully, the conversation has turned into a focus on symptoms of what many are calling a broken system, instead of making the president’s commitments the real focal point of any substantive discussions on procurement issues.

The president’s memo does not recommend or create new policy and allows the potential for validating existing policy; an encouraging sign and a productive means to explore the real issues that exist. According to Mr. Soloway:

Using language that ignores an array of Government Accountability Office and other objective analyses, the president appears to lay virtually all the blame for cost over-runs on weapons systems at the feet of contractors. Fortunately, the memo recognizes the many factors that are often at the heart of the problem, including requirements scope and stability, funding, and others. What’s more, the president calls for an end to wasteful contracts — a goal with which no one could disagree — leaving it for the review process to determine whether such contracts involve work that simply doesn’t need to be done and should simply be terminated or whether they reflect poor performance and should be recompeted.

There is no question that debates and dialogue about acquisition reform in Congress have been troubling. Mr. Soloway rightfully points out that there has been very little discussion on accountability, efficiency and performance, but a rather a focus on contracting, and contractors in particular. There seems to be a philosophy in Congress that contractors have one sole purpose, and that is to treat the government as an ATM.

In regards to activities performed by contractors that apparently fly in the face of activities deemed inherently governmental (e.g. procurement support), this really gets to the heart of the matter. Although the government, especially DoD, have made tremendous strides in shoring up the acquisition workforce, much work needs to be done to create the numbers and skills to adequately perform the mission. Further, this initiative will require years of commitment and resources to be productive if they can ever be achieved, and also needs to involve targeted training on oversight and ensuring the commitment to accountability, efficiency and performance are at its center to ensure the walls of inherently governmental are not breached. Acquiring the skills, flexibility, and commitment of industry to help perform the acquisition mission should be treated as a strategic initiative, and managed as such. Breakdowns in the relationship have occurred on both sides of the equation, as lack of oversight and accountability by the government has also contributed to problems with contractors supporting procurement activity. To end with Mr. Soloway:

The president has set in motion a series of activities designed to enhance competition, government performance and accountability, all on behalf of the taxpayer, for whom the real question is whether and how well the government delivers; whether it’s by federal employee or contractor makes no difference. We owe the taxpayers the benefit of an intellectually honest, consistent and analytically sound process that can achieve the president’s goals. Then, let the chips fall where they may.

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