How can we get more resources and talent for post-award contract management?

Within the area of public management, procurement is something of a neglected stepchild — especially considering the amount of money spent and the significance of contracting for accomplishing the government’s work.

And post-award contract management is a stepchild of a stepchild, getting scant attention even from people engaged in contracting.

Steve KelmanYet the ultimate success or failure of a contracting effort is very dependent on how well the government manages the contract after it is awarded. Most contracting failures are significantly failures of contract management. In its 2015 annual report on the Performance of the Defense Acquisition System, the Department of Defense, citing a 2014 report by the Institute for Defense Analysis, noted that weapons systems “started during the reforms of the mid-1990s — which encouraged a more ‘hands off’ and ‘let industry do its job’ approach and included a significant downsizing of the DoD acquisition workforce — produced significantly higher funding cost growth than other regimes.”

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Subcontracting and supply chain: What government learns from other sectors

Government contracting is as old as government itself. For most of its history, federal contracting was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, where the golden rule was “He who has the gold, rules.”

Beyond the FAROf course as budgets and the role of government (particularly federal) in affecting business or commerce declines, the impact of government acquisition needs and initiatives on the larger economy has declined as well. All contracting professionals are taught the importance of a healthy “industrial base,” which tends to be defined as a healthy and competitive group of prime contractors to meet present and future needs. It has historically been used as the rationale for avoiding overly burdensome or onerous acquisition regulations, lest contractors decide to move out of the business and no longer be a supplier.

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Six ways feds can improve IT acquisition and access

A group of federal contracting advocates teamed up to analyze how to improve the government acquisition process, particularly around government/contractor relations.

PSCThe team — comprised of the Professional Services Council (PSC), the Technology Councils of North America, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the California Technology Council (CTC) — came up with six “guiding principles” that will make it easier for government to buy IT and help new and smaller companies break into federal contracting.

Download: Delivering Results: A Framework for Federal Government Technology Access and Acquisition

“Our message is simple: Government must remove the high hurdles to participation and innovation for all so that firms from across the nation can compete on a level playing field,” said Dave Wennergren, PSC executive vice president. “That we have come together around this set of overarching principles sends a strong signal that the government is constrained by how they ask for technology solutions, not who they ask.”

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DoD hasn’t updated plan to achieve adequately sized and capable acquisition workforce

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Department of Defense (DoD) doesn’t have a plan in place to have an adequately sized and capable acquisition workforce to handle the $300 billion in goods and services it buys annually.

DoD is required by statute to develop an acquisition workforce plan every 2 years.  DoD issued a plan in 2010, in which it called for the department to increase the size of the acquisition workforce by 20,000 positions by fiscal year 2015, but has not yet updated the plan.  More importantly, in six of DoD’s 13 acquisition career fields, including three priority career fields — contracting, business and engineering — DoD did not meet growth goals.

DoD's contracting workforce lags by 1,562 positions according to a Dec. 15, 2015 GAO report.
DoD’s contracting workforce lags by 1,562 positions according to a Dec. 15, 2015 GAO report.

DoD increased the size of its military and civilian acquisition workforce by 21 percent, from about 126,000 to about 153,000, between September 2008 and March 2015.  This exceeds its 20,000 personnel growth target by over 7,000.  However, while DoD attempted to strategically reshape its acquisition workforce with the 2010 acquisition workforce plan, it fell short in several priority career fields, including contracting.

There have been improvements in the training and qualifications of the DoD workforce. For example, the percent of the workforce that met certification requirements increased from 58 percent to 79 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2014.   However, DoD still faces the challenge of an aging workforce, as statistics also show that the average age of the workforce has been static since 2008 at about 45 years, and the percentage of retirement eligible personnel has remained at 17 percent. Defense acquisition officials recognize the risks associated with the loss of very experienced members of the acquisition workforce.

GAO recommends that DoD’s focus should now be placed on reshaping career fields to ensure that the most critical acquisition needs are being met. In GAO’s opinion:

An updated plan that includes revised career field goals, coupled with guidance on how to use the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, could help DOD components focus future hiring efforts on priority career fields. Without an integrated approach, the department is at risk of using the funds to hire personnel in career fields that currently exceed their targets or are not considered a priority.

A copy of GAO’s report, entitled “Actions Needed to Guide Planning Efforts and Improve Workforce Capability,” can be downloaded here:

Procurement officials expected to go beyond being jack-of-all-trades

The White House-driven category management initiative offers important new opportunities for procurement professionals.

swiss army knifeFor the first time, for example, they have a chance to specialize in and master specific categories of spending, in addition to being jack-of-all-trade buyers. Category management of more than $270 billion in annual spending on commonly purchased goods and services requires skills not yet gathered in any existing federal position description, nor taught in federal procurement training institutions.

More than ever, the procurement corps has an opportunity to deepen its relationship with the programs accomplishing the true business of government — its missions. More than ever, government buyers are expected to deeply understand their markets and suppliers.

The category team structure — the central organizing principle for the 10 types of common governmentwide purchases — opens an array of potential new positions for team members.

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See governmentwide category management guidance at: