Yesterday, we heard Joanie Newhart address the Prince William Chamber of Commerce Government Contracting Committee during which she eloquently laid out the Office of Procurement Policy's (OFPP) continuing agenda and skillfully handled questions about the importance of OFPP's work. OFPP does not handle procurements. But its work may be more important than you think.
OFPP is big on the strategic sourcing initiative because of its emphasis on getting more work to small businesses. She brushed aside the criticism that the competition for consolidated buys would leave some small business competitors out in the cold. That's what competition is all about. Instead, she emphasized that the goal was to award a larger portion of procurement dollars to small businesses through strategic sourcing. That, after all, is why the word strategic is used.
She also talked about the policy emphasis on commercial buying and how agencies need to be better at finding commercial solutions where appropriate. Recalling the myth buster memos she helped write, she emphasized that the government must spend more time talking with industry about commercial solutions to government needs.
In one light bulb moment, she reminded government procurement personnel that "if FAR [the Federal Acquisition Regulation] doesn't say you can't do it, do it."
But now to the really important point about OFPP. During the questioning, Joanie deftly handled criticism that OFPP policies are not being followed in the field. OFPP is doing everything allowed by law to get its messages to the field. It really got us to thinking.
The problem in the field is not that OFPP got too cute with "myth busting" or that it doesn't send the right messages to the right people. The problem is two fold: 1) agency acquisition leaders are underachieving in their leadership; and 2) contract workers in the field are not finding the winners (meaning the experienced hands), listening to them and implementing their advice on best practices. It's not enough to lament the loss of experienced contracting people. The young people in the field who have been tossed into the vacuum need to exercise greater initiative. Find the experience and follow it.
Yes, OFPP is more important than you think. It's policy leadership has been stellar through the years and we may even be entering the golden years of policy making. OFPP sends its memos to all senior acquisition officials. If the message is not getting to the field, it is the responsibility of those senior officials. We must hold them accountable for their lack of leadership. But the people in the field also bear a heavy responsibility to listen to OFPP and follow the experienced leaders.
We have our best policy makers in OFPP. It's high time we all listened to them.