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Shield acquisition workforce from budget cuts, procurement chief says

Jun. 29, 2012 - 12:22PM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments
Joseph Jordan is the federal procurement policy chief.
Joseph Jordan is the federal procurement policy chief. (Staff file photo)

Agencies should avoid cutting their acquisition workforces to meet budget cuts in the coming year, said Joseph Jordan, the federal procurement policy chief.

The administration intends to keep growing the acquisition workforce in order to more effectively manage the government’s $500 billion annual contracting operation, said Jordan.

“[During] the eight years of the Bush administration, contract spending went from $200 million to $500 million,” he told the Professional Services Council trade association on Thursday. “The acquisition workforce did not grow anything like that. We’ve spent the last couple years bending the cost curve, reducing contract spending for the first time while increasing the acquisition workforce, trying to narrow that gap.”

Jordan did not discuss how the acquisition workforce would be affected by automatic budget cuts, called sequestration, set to take effect Jan. 2. “Our belief is Congress will act to avoid the sequestration and they certainly have time to do so and I hope they do,” Jordan said.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of PSC, said there are no specific rules or guidance that would protect the acquisition workforce from budget cuts. If agencies are asked to reduce their budgets across the board because of sequestration, the acquisition workforce may be subject to furloughs and other cost-cutting measures like the rest of the workforce, Chvotkin said.

“That’s where some of the challenge and the ambiguity of sequestration comes into play,” he said.

Jordan also said he has no plans to issue guidance to agencies on how to use a contracting method known as lowest price, technically acceptable. Using this method, agencies only look at vendors that meet specific technical requirements and then award the contract to the vendor that offers the lowest price.

Many vendors prefer an alternative method, called best value, in which vendors can offer more than what is technically required and the agency can decide if it is willing to pay more for that capability.

Jordan said he has been told by some vendors that the lowest-price, technically acceptable method is used inappropriately for complex purchases in which technical requirements are difficult to define. Conversely, many auditors and officials who oversee federal contracting say agencies should be making more awards based on lowest price.

Jordan said the fact that he is hearing concerns from both sides likely indicates that agencies’ are striking a good balance in deciding when and how to use lowest-price, technically acceptable source selection, Jordan said.

“I would doubt you’ll see any guidance from me that would say use one, not the other, because I don’t see how that makes sense,” he said.

But he encouraged industry to inform him of any problems they see with how agencies choose vendors.

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