Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Contract Management Starts at the Beginning
As part of a continuing discussion on contract management, former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Steve Kelman, blogged about the need to focus on this issue on Federal Computer Week

Responding to this call, ASI Government is allowing access to some of their tools, which are normally only provided as part of a subscription to their Virtual Acquisition Office. These tools are a good primer on contract management, and should provide some useful reference for those seeking to learn more about how to effectively manage contracts.

Nonetheless, effective contract management can only be successful if a real, outcomes-based focus is done upfront, and before the contract is even awarded. The acquisition reform initiatives currently underway across government continue to be focused primarily on pre-award contracting functions, without a clear path on how to effectively manage these contracts once they are awarded.

Why has this been problematic? First and foremost, failed leadership continues to plague effective contract management. Either through a lack of attention to agencies' contracting activities, or the inability to properly analyze data through antiquated or ineffective contract management solutions, it seems like senior officials remain blissfully ignorant of waste and abuse. As reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in testimony from 1992: 

…In other cases, senior officials have not made managers accountable for effective contract administration, nor have they made a sufficient commitment to correct contracting problems that have surfaced…

It seems little has changed in the almost 25 years since this testimony was given. Even recent testimony by GAO describes ongoing issues with contract management, as they relate to services contracts: 

…As we testified before you in May, Mr. Chairman, agency procurements of services often are not being conducted as efficiently as they could be. We have found that too frequently agencies are not clearly defining their requirements, fully considering alternative solutions, performing vigorous price analyses, or adequately overseeing contractor performance. Such problems clearly point to a need for more focused management attention… 

This report describes several areas of needed improvement. Namely, strong Chief Acquisition Officers across government with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, improved training of the acquisition workforce, and better adoption of performance-based contracts.

However, if we want to start fixing contract management issues across government, we need to start at the beginning, and have leaders across government who recognize the problem. These leaders need to be engaged, and have the ability to address the problems from the ground up if we expect any real change.

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