Officials: Budget cuts, pay freezes hurt DoD acquisition workforce

Myriad challenges face Defense Department acquisition and many of them have exacerbated budget cuts and pay freezes, DoD officials told a House panel July 10, 2014.

“The fiscal challenges, shifting operational requirements, the current budget instability deriving from sequestration, years of pay freezes, furloughs, military end-strength reductions and the requirement for commensurate reductions in our civilian workforce, more than a decade of conflict–inevitably all of these things have affected the acquisition workforce,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephanie Barna at the hearing.

DoD Under Secretary Frank Kendall echoed Barna’s concerns that budget cuts, pay freezes and furloughs have slowed progress on acquisition reform.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/official-budget-cuts-pay-freezes-hurt-dod-acquisition-workforce/2014-07-15

Quality cost data is key to making better management decisions

Cost estimating may not be as exciting as the new baseball season or the competition on American Idol, but for anyone in management, it is absolutely vital, if somewhat less entertaining. Especially if you’re involved in program management, procurement or finance you rely on high quality cost estimates every day.  Why?  Because they provide the foundation for informed decision-making.

As such, it’s essential for managers to be able to distinguish between two important, but very different (and often confused) types of cost estimates: life cycle cost estimates (LCCEs) and independent government cost estimates (IGCEs).

This table compares and contrasts the two types of estimates, to help decision-makers determine which one they need to utilize.

This table compares and contrasts the two types of estimates, to help decision-makers determine which one they need to utilize.

Life cycle cost estimates take a comprehensive view of a program. They include all costs, whether incurred by the government or the contractor, including labor, materials, facilities, hardware, software and integration costs, and sometimes even imputed costs. Life cycle cost estimates can be for 30 years or more. For high dollar programs, LCCEs are required by many government agencies at various acquisition milestones. For example, on very large programs the Defense Department requires LCCEs at three milestones before projects can proceed. Given the scope and duration of LCCEs, they are treated as living documents that should be updated annually.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/quality-cost-data-key-making-better-management-decisions/87946/

VA forming cadre of specially-trained acquisition workers

The Veterans Affairs Department is recognizing and rewarding the success of its acquisition workers.

VA is professionalizing the acquisition workforce in a way comparable only to the Defense Department.

“We are establishing a professional acquisition corps in order to provide the benefits to VA by having a very specified cadre of highly-trained contracting officers and program managers who have a demonstrated history of high performance, and are qualified to lead VA’s most critical and high visibility programs and procurements,” said Ford Heard, VA’s associate deputy assistant secretary for Procurement Policy, Systems and Oversight and deputy senior procurement executive, during an interview on Federal News Radio’s In- Depth with Francis Rose.

“From a VA perspective, we are basically a soup to nuts organization as far as what is being procured in VA.  Not only is it IT.  Not only is it high professional quality healthcare services, but all the facility management requirements that anyone of our healthcare facilities would utilize. So, what we are actually doing is building this acquisition corps to really benefit veterans in the service we offer, and the opportunities for our employees to advance and receive training that they would not normally get under past circumstances.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/538/3654616/VA-forming-cadre-of-specially-trained-acquisition-workers 

Acquisition planning is focus of July 14 course

Want to learn about the Government’s policies and procedures for planning an acquisition?  How does the Government deal with required and preferred sources of supplies and services?  What must be done to ensure competition?

To answer these questions and many, many more, The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech is presenting a one-week course beginning July 14, 2014, entitled CON 090-2: Contract Planning in the FAR.

By attending this course, students will learn all the types of contracts that may be used in acquisitions, special contracting techniques, the impact of socioeconomic programs, the use of special contract terms and conditions, the implications of contractor qualifications, and proper advertisement procedures.

The course provides vital instruction for Government contracting personnel as well as important insights for contractors.

CON 090-2 is the second of four modules from CON 090 – Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Fundamentals.  The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech offers CON 090 in four, one-week classes.  Each module stands on its own, allowing students multiple opportunities throughout the year to complete the entire CON 090 course without the challenge of being away from work or home for an entire month.

The course consists of limited lecture, and is heavily exercise-based.  Students should be prepared to dedicate about an hour each evening for reading.

The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech is an approved equivalency training provider to the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and provides continuing education training to Acquisition and Government Contracting professionals as well as to business professionals working for government contractors or pursuing opportunities in the federal contracting arena.

Procurement troubles still dog Defense Department

Congress has held hearings over the past 30 years seeking ways to fix the Defense Department’s poor procurement system.

A June 24th hearing offered interesting ideas.

No headlines afterward about stopping F-35 costs from skyrocketing, keeping new production of nuclear aircraft carriers on schedule or halting the failure of billion-dollar computer programs — in fact, there was hardly any press coverage at all.

Two worthwhile ideas that came from the four experienced procurement specialists who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee provided no silver bullets, but they made sense.

  1. Give the main contracting officer for major weapons projects absolute cradle-to-grave authority and responsibility and accountability.
  2. Interservice rivalry and even intraservice competition have far from ended, and they harm the procurement system.

 

4 lessons for government leaders on what motivates contractors

Competition was the main theme of the Defense Department’s second annual report on acquisition performance, released earlier this month. Declining budgets may be pushing defense contractors to look for work outside the government, but the Pentagon’s emphasis remains on promoting competition, according to Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The report analyzed contractors’ cost and schedule performance over more than a decade to see what motivated them to produce better results. Here are some takeaways:

  1. The carrot-and-stick approach works.
  2. Fixed-price isn’t always the best fix.
  3. More competition does mean better performance.
  4. Leadership matters, but it’s not clear how much.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/what-motivates-defense-contractors-four-lessons-for-government-leaders/2014/06/27/a623fb06-f577-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html

Contracting officers given overly high marks by Army

Army contracting apparently is like the schools at Lake Wobegon — everybody is above average.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fell victim to the biggest bid-rigging scandal in the history of federal procurement in 2011 — the same year the Army’s cadre of more than 5,600 contracting officers received unusually stellar job ratings.

Out of 5,670 contracting officers, just two received an unsatisfactory performance rating in fiscal 2011, while more than 60 percent of the Army’s procurement workers were given the highest rating of “role models,” according to a previously undisclosed 2013 Army Audit Agency review that found “there are few, if any, consequences for unfavorable contracting practices.”

Even personnel working in “high-risk” offices often managed to score above-average job-performance ratings, according to the report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which officials said signaled widespread problems of job ratings in government reviews.

“It’s not just contracting officers,” Harry Hallock, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for procurement, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Times on Thursday.

“It’s frankly across the Army, across DOD, across the federal government. I think over time we have had an issue with performance appraisals matching performance,” he said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/19/contractors-are-given-overly-high-marks-by-army/?page=all#pagebreak

Senate testimony: Intelligence community needs to keep better tabs on its contractors

The 17 agencies in the intelligence community must get a better handle on the extent of their reliance on contractors, witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday. Overuse of outsourcing presents risks to both national security and managerial efficiency, senators and an auditor warned.

“Contractors can provide flexibility and unique expertise, but there are risks” if internal controls, formal planning and documentation are inadequate, Timothy DiNapoli, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Changes to the definition of core contract personnel limit the comparability of the information over time,” he said, noting that the civilian intelligence community agencies used various methods to calculate the number of contract personnel and did not maintain documentation to validate the number of personnel reported for 37 percent of records reviewed. GAO also found that the civilian intelligence community agencies either under- or over-reported contract obligations by more than 10 percent for one-fifth of the records.

Panel Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “The people we entrust with leadership roles at these agencies need to be able to show the American people, and Congress, that they know who is working for them and why.” Overreliance on contractors behind the intelligence agencies’ secrecy walls presents three hazards, Carper said: hollowing out the in-house workforce and making it weaker, requiring extra layers of management and paying more for work that could have been performed by federal employees.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/06/intelligence-community-needs-keep-better-tabs-its-contractors/86758/

Avoid single-bid procurements by engaging early with industry, GAO says

Reaching out to industry early in the procurement process can prevent situations where only one vendor bids on a contract that is supposed to be competitively awarded, the Government Accountability Office says.

As part of a report dated May 5, GAO auditors reviewed the Defense Department’s single-bid contracts, whose combined dollar value is in the billions annually.

They also spoke with vendors, who said they’re more likely to bid on a contract if they hear about it as early as possible. They often make their decisions about whether to bid before a request for proposals is published and the 30-day solicitation period ensues.

Vendors may not want to spend the resources to prepare a bid if they don’t feel confident in their prospects of winning the award, especially if there’s an incumbent contractor that appears to have performed well so far.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/avoid-single-bid-procurements-engaging-early-industry-gao-says/2014-05-06

To improve the contracting workforce, improve training

The need for additional staff resources is the most frequently cited response to improving government contracting. In recent years, considerable resources have been invested in hiring and educating our biggest asset, human capital. This additional staffing and education has so far met with mixed results. This is because people are only as effective as the experience and education they have received.

Contracting executives frequently mention the need to develop judgment, reasoning, and analytical skills, as well as to obtain real-world experience. These goals can be met through exposure to diverse acquisition and operational scenarios. Three years of varied contracting experience (simplified acquisition, major systems, source selection, and acquisition planning) is better than 10 years of doing the same, simplified, repetitive tasks over and over, yet still moving up the career ladder. When that situation occurs, specialists get up to senior levels but with limited experience and knowledge, inhibiting their ability to assume the leadership responsibilities they were intended to.

This occurs because agencies want to fill their positions, even though most applicants did not have the opportunity to obtain the necessary variety of experience, which may require moving from one position to another.

Many smaller agencies cannot offer internships or rotations to round out their experience because of the limited nature of their acquisition mission. In some cases, the agency or firm has the overall resources, but is not organized to manage professional development.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140530/BLG06/305300015/To-improve-contracting-workforce-improve-training