The much anticipated Smart Contracting Caucus met this week for the first time since being created over a year ago by former House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, (R-VA). The intent of the Caucus was to consider thoughtful federal procurement reform by having a type of 360-review of issues facing the contracting community, with participation from federal agencies, academia, industry and the oversight community. Their conclusions have been highly publicized and reported; the acquisition workforce is in crisis and needs help through an infusion of resources, greater individual empowerment and new leadership.
Some of the comments reported from the panel:
"This is a crisis," said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington watchdog group. "The acquisition workforce has been ignored for so many years."
"We need to get back to a core of well-trained and well-paid [acquisition workers]," Chvotkin said. "And we need to trust their judgment."
The focus on the panel was to recommend a reform of not only the acquisition workforce through increased and streamlined hiring practices, training, and helping the profession compete with the private sector in compensation, but also to change the culture of federal government to treat contracting as a strategic asset and an important function in the operations of government management.
One of the more significant comments came from Steven Schooner, co-director of the government procurement law program at The George Washington University Law School, who commented on the procurement system itself. Mr. Schooner correctly noted that the system is not fundamentally broken and overhaul will only exacerbate current problems.
Reform needs to focus on workforce development and creating long-term solutions for hiring and retaining talent in the contract profession for real change to move forward. I have commented on talent acquisition, and creating the next generation of contract leaders who have a strategic business focus that the profession desperately needs. I think this next-generation workforce needs to be one of the primary focuses of the hiring reforms, in addition to creating a private-sector like environment of a real professional development to help empower decision making and establishing the respect and level of trust that the profession once enjoyed. Just hiring bodies is meaningless unless new hires are educated, talented, focused, and given the incentives to stay in the profession and create an impact on both their careers and the nation as a whole. Government business revolves around contracts, as we need to understand that and change the way we view this profession to make it an attractive one and encourage public service in the leaders of tomorrow.