The Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton LLP have just released their biennial survey of federal government acquisition leaders. The purpose of the survey is to provide government and industry leaders perspectives on the state of federal acquisition policy. The report highlights the top three concerns: 1) budget stability, 2) the acquisition workforce and 3) collaboration, transparency and oversight. It's a must read for any professional in the field and for all government and industry leaders.
In every edition of the survey over the last decade, respondents to the survey have identified workforce resources, capabilities, training and development as top concerns. "People, people, people . . . having the right number of competent, trained acquisition personnel is the number one issue." With inexperienced people in the procurement workforce and an increasing federal retirement rate, acquisition leaders fear that education and training resources will not be available to meet the challenges ahead, particularly those resulting from budget austerity.
"Continuing resolutions (CRs) force agencies to procure only the barest essentials, regardless of the impact on an agency's investment strategy." Budget cuts mean tough choices. This translates into the need for a strong workforce to get the best value for expenditures. Tighter budgets force price-based decisions potentially limiting innovation and best value. The need for promoting lessons learned is greater than ever before.
Finally, the report notes: "We have this zero-risk mentality from the oversight community and it has a chilling effect." This mentality is coming at the worst possible time. "We are seeing the criminalizing of mistakes." In discussing collaboration, transparency and oversight, the report notes the need for greater speed in the acquisition process while maintaining safeguards, the need to institutionalize processes and encourage innovation.
The report notes that although workforce training exists, it cannot replace the value gained from experience and the benefits of mentoring. Experience and mentoring are both at risk from retirements. Above all, communication skills are needed. "Acquisition personnel have stopped thinking. They want templates." Critical thinking is now at a premium. The report concludes that although many talented and passionate people have tried to improve training, they have not delivered the needed results. "Now is the time to assess new, more innovative, cross-functional and contemporary ways to rapidly and more effectively help develop this vital workforce." (Emphasis added.)
One other major take-away from the report is the fundamental disconnect between the acquisition and oversight communities which must be reconciled and repaired. It's been called the "Great Divide". There is an ongoing and destructive conflict that is severely inhibiting innovation and reasonable risk taking. The every growing compliance regime may not be adding value to the procurement process and is robbing particularly the inexperienced workforce of the incentive to innovate and take risks.