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. 

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