Wednesday, December 26, 2012


As we've reported, the Acquisition Policy Survey conducted by the Professional Services Council (PSC) and Grant Thornton LLP is a must read for all executives and practicing professionals who deal with federal government acquisition in any form at any level.  There is having to do less with less.  Then, a highly risk-averse culture threatens innovation and smart buying decisions.  Balancing price against tradeoff analyses has become an enormous challenge.  To top it off, the very people responsible for the day to day decisions lack experience, mentoring and sufficient training.  And their innovation and reasonable risk taking is severely inhibited by the growing compliance regime.  (Oversight and transparency also inhibit contractor innovation.)

Budget uncertainty is a new issue.  In the past, budgets did not receive a high level of attention in the survey.  "Smart acquisition" has become the watch-phrase.  But so far the prime, if not the almost singular example of smartness, is strategic sourcing.  Smart buying requires smart people.  With the challenges ahead, senior leaders recommend investments in training and maintaining the procurement workforce.  But budget realities threaten investments in its size and competence.  "Over the years, survey respondents have demonstrated a growing concern, even frustration, with the status quo.  That concern, as well as a call for real change and action, is one of the clearest messages that can be drawn from this year's results."

Training alone cannot replace the value gained from experience.  Retirements rob the workforce of mentors.  Acquisition personnel have "stopped thinking" and lack necessary communication and negotiation skills.  Notwithstanding OFPP's myth busting memo success, government personnel continue to fear bid protests and are uncertain about the rules of communication.  "We still have contracting officers and program managers who have the perception that you can't speak with industry.  We tell people they must so they can get better proposals."  There is an urgent need to market the myth busting message.

"Money next year is declining, but the oversight interests will increase because there is less money, and there will be intense interest in how we're spending the money."  Oversight is having a severely negative effect.  "We have this zero-risk mentality from the oversight community and it has a chilling effect."  Resources are overextended in responding to the oversight by Congress and the audit/inspector general communities.  This inhibits taking reasonable business risks.  Increasing audit and compliance requirements will continue to constrain innovation in the acquisition community.

"Budget pressures, concerns over protests and oversight scrutiny and relative ease of decision making have led to a shift from best value to LPTA as a more and more common driver for source selection decisions."

In summary, the survey report characterizes the challenges to the acquisition community as an unabated crisis.  The the common thread throughout the report is the need to enhance the quality and quantity of the procurement workforce.  The report concludes with this admonition:
Efforts to enhance the support given to the acquisition workforce have not delivered the results needed.  Going forward, new thinking--about training and development, hiring policies, supporting and encouraging innovation (including the inevitable associated failures) and appropriately resourcing the acquisition workforce--is clearly needed.
In our next article, we will suggest solutions.  Whether it's a crisis or a conundrum, we all need to address the issues.  Our thanks to PSC and Grant Thornton.  Their report is indeed required reading.

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