Let me first apologize to Andy Krzmarzick (@krazykris on Twitter), as I have been promising a post on performance-based contracting and how it relates to the Better Buy Project and the Acquisition 2.0 initiative. I actually started that post, but put in on hold a bit as I found something of interest that I have also been meaning to discuss.
At the Better Buy Project forum at the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA) last December, I was discussing with Mary Davie of the General Services Administration the need to reform not only acquisition, but the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) itself. We both commented that we often get curious looks when we mention this in conversation, but part of the rebuilding of the acquisition mission is to look at the FAR, as it seems ripe for an overhaul. In fact, the FAR can be fertile ground for change, and that change can certainly be done under the umbrella of Acquisition 2.0 tools and methodologies, much like performance-based contracting.
The FAR, in my opinion, has become a snake-pit of over-regulation; a maze of parochial interest. As lawmakers turned to help constituencies and thus narrow interests, or through well-meaning yet poorly planned and poorly though out policy, the current FAR is an example of simply how not to conduct world-class buying.
I was revisiting a wonderful piece of common sense approaches to reform by the Procurement Roundtable (PRT) that are very relevant to the current transformation discussion, not to mention illustrative of how difficult reform can be as the report is dated December, 1999.
The recommendation regarding policy guidance I believe to be spot on, and concur with the PRT that the way forward is much less regulation and far fewer detailed procurement laws. The reform process would work in an Acquisition 2.0 construct, where mission and broad policy statements commence the process of the final outcome; a digital, e-procurement guidance or FAR 2.0.
Under FAR 2.0, guidance should focus on outcomes and mission by concentrating on National or agency goals and objectives. This guidance would not be regulation, and would certainly not be details about how to perform the mission.
The next step is recreating FAR 2.0 would be a crowd sourcing initiative, much like the Better Buy Project. The acquisition community would be able to comment on eliminating the redundancy and over-regulation, focus on commercial best practices, and eliminate those existing statutes, agency regulations, and other directives that burden procurement and detail how to perform the mission. This approach is what the PRT referred to as a "zero-based" approach; which is to start with a blank sheet and add only what can be thoroughly justified.
Further input would of course be proposals for re-creating and streamlining the buying process, changing the new FAR to make it a "what, not how" model of world-class procurement. The rule for streamlining and creating FAR 2.0 would be to follow those commercial processes that allow for a fair and open acquisition process, and allow for real transparency and accountability to the taxpayer. This new process would be based on constant innovation; eliminating and revising any existing guidance or policy that does not allow for the leveraging of new information technology. The goal is to build an acquisition process for the 21st century, and executed by a right-sized and blended 21st century acquisition workforce with the right skills and capabilities to leverage this new process.
Not an easy task, no doubt. However, recognizing the institutional challenges that have hampered reform in the past are the first areas to attack by change agents and leaders who claim to want real, meaningful reform, and who are also demanding accountability and transparency. Some agencies will continue claiming uniqueness, and Congress may the biggest obstacle. However, the Acquisition 2.0 forum and the collaborative nature of this FAR 2.0 initiative can use the successes and lessons learned from Better Buy to involve all the concerned stakeholders, including the organizations that published the overly prescriptive guidance and have legitimacy to claims of uniqueness. Only by taking risks and exploring innovative ideas can we expect to see change that matters.