Rethinking Government Contracting


George Mason University and the IBM Center released a report today by Allan Burman, “Six Practical Steps to Improve Contracting.” 


This report is based on a series of sessions held by an Acquisition Reform Working Group over the course of several months last year to find common ground among a range of acquisition, procurement, and contracting experts, both inside and outside the government.


One of President Obama’s fiscal responsibility summit breakout groups earlier this week focused on procurement problems, and Senator Claire McCaskill is leading a congressional oversight panel.  Also, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that fixing the procurement system will be a top priority for him, as well.


So, while there is a great deal of attention on the topic, so far there has not been much focus on solutions.  The Working Group examined a series of problems, such as the role of contractors, the use of performance-based acquisition, and post-award contract management.  But the value of the Group was its articulation of series of very actionable steps that can be taken now, administratively, without waiting for statutory changes.  These include:


·         Providing agency chief acquisition officers sufficient accountability and authority to oversee both the contracting and program management communities in their agencies.  Currently, there is a gap between the two, and that oftentimes is where the fault lies.


·         Designate career senior procurement officers as deputies to the politically-designated chief acquisition officers to ensure continuity and coordination.


·         Plan more strategically for the talent needed to act on an agency’s mission.  Too often, chief human capital officers only look at the talent recruited for civil service positions, even in cases where contractor talent is needed to successfully meet an agency’s mission.


·         Invest in the right talent to carry out the acquisition function.


·         Create agency business councils, chaired by a deputy secretary, to bring all the key mission support players to the table – the chief acquisition officer, the chief financial officer, the chief information officer, and the chief human capital officer – to address mission challenges collectively.


The report also recommends a relatively straightforward statutory change, as well:  give OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy a broader role, by including agency program managers under its policy purview.  Only by knitting the two communities together will there be real progress and less finger-pointing.


This report follows on the heels of a call by the Professional Services Council, which represents large contractors, to create procurement “tiger teams” to quickly act on the many contracts that will stem from the recently-passed Stimulus Bill.



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