Sunday, July 22, 2012

Forget Talk of Policy: Focus on People

Since coming onboard as new Administrator of The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), Joe Jordan has seemingly looked to policy, regulations, and guidance on tactical execution to help solve the procurement woes that are being faced by the federal government.

However, it has been some time since OFPP focused on what really is the problem, the acquisition workforce.

Granted Mr. Jordan discussed workforce in an interview with Federal Computer Week, and I hope he does indeed focus on it.

However, without a highly trained and functioning acquisition workforce, no initiative or improvements in the abysmal track record of government spending is possible.

Most new “initiatives” are treated with either derision, open hostility, or simply ignored due to lack of attention or even awareness. I recently asked a group of contract specialists about their use of open communication techniques, in accordance with OFPP’s “MythBusters” campaign, and you would have thought I was speaking another language by the blank stares I got.

One of the most respected (definitely by me) thought leaders in this profession, Vern Edwards, said it best on a recent post on this very issue:

…In a complex system like acquisition, any attempt to fix deep seated system faults through policy will fail. The only way to get at the deep seated problems in acquisition is through workforce improvement, and I don’t mean numbers. We need well-educated, superbly trained people for the big stuff, and we do not have enough of them. Mismanagement and poor leadership will prompt many of the best of the new recruits to leave. The problems are beyond the reach of management in the organizational structure we have now for the simple reason that no one is in charge. Only someone with the power and the ruthlessness of a Stalin could fix the system. A few purges might be just the thing…

It is the cold, hard truth. We need to focus on people, and not the numbers as I have previously discussed (here, here and here).

Focusing on tactical issues can certainly help, especially focusing on performance based contracting, better requirements development, and better communications and collaboration with industry. Nonetheless, the state of the acquisition workforce gets worse every day, and the hole keeps getting deeper.

You won’t hear that in any Presidential debate or attack ad. It is easier to focus on the symptoms rather than the disease. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work: Final Iraq Audit Report Edition

The “final” report on Iraq reconstruction was released recently, and I have seen little media attention to the astonishing level of waste, incompetence, and outright theft that the report highlights.

How much money is unaccounted for? According to the report, nobody knows. After years of trying to account for the billions we poured into the rabbit hole of Iraq, the government can only say that billions were wasted, but not how much.

Some on the highlights from the report:

…"billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of waste and misappropriation"...

..."The precise amount lost to fraud and waste can never be known," the report said….

The auditors found huge problems accounting for the larger sums and complex projects, but it was also the smaller sums that also added up to hundreds of millions of waste and fraud:

…"Given the vicissitudes of the reconstruction effort — which was dogged from the start by persistent violence, shifting goals, constantly changing contracting practices and undermined by a lack of unity of effort — a complete accounting of all reconstruction expenditures is impossible to achieve," the report concluded…

Although the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has spent more than $200 million tracking the reconstruction effort, and producing numerous reports, some accountability has been realized. The OIG investigations resulted in 87 indictments, 71 convictions and $176 million in fines and other penalties.

Among those held accountable are civilians, military personnel, and contractors accused of kickbacks, bribery, bid rigging, fraud, embezzlement and outright theft of government property and funds.

Nonetheless, these actions are just a drop in the bucket trying to account for the outright criminal behavior and complete lack of governance and oversight of taxpayer funds.

One of the major overlying issues was the lack of trained, competent contracting personnel to oversee the mission. In some cases, invoices were reviewed months after they had been paid due to the lack of contracting officers.

The OIG highlighted a case in which the State Department had only one contracting officer in Iraq to validate more than $2.5 billion in spending. No contracting office representative, no help. Further, lack of any invoice review whatsoever was the modus operandi. It is easier to not ask questions, and sign the checks, as opposed to the improper micro-management of contracts on the other spectrum.

Further, the IG goes on to say:

…"As a result, invoices were not properly reviewed, and the $2.5 billion in U.S. funds were vulnerable to fraud and waste,"

"We found this lack of control to be especially disturbing since earlier reviews of the DynCorp contract had found similar weaknesses."

The report did highlight that some funds were recovered ($60 million), but how much was wasted? Again, nobody knows.

It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and Monday-morning quarterback these failures, given the level of violence and danger, shifting sands of priorities and goals, and difficulties in securing the country. However, these failures did not occur overnight.

Endemic waste, fraud, and corruption were rampant, and the lack of trained acquisition personnel was known, or should have been known. Where are the government leaders who allowed this to happen?

The OIG report is silent. Silence seems to be acceptance.