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Time for DoD to untangle buying process

Jul. 7, 2012 - 02:38PM   |  
By JOE BEDNAR   |   Comments

Dear Defense Department acquisitions bureaucracy: enough already. Please stop expanding the already monstrous labyrinth of buying procedures.

We are trying to place contracts in support of our military. The acquisitions can get involved. But the buying process itself — the fundamentals of soliciting requirements, evaluating offers, awarding and administering contracts — need this be anything like what it has become?

As has been proved by others, a contract itself can be as technical as needed, yet with much simpler and effective processes behind it. Let me try to explain how we are failing the military and taxpayer, and then offer a solution.

Granted, spending someone else’s money brings serious accountability. But we have taken that to lengths that have the opposite impact — we are wasting fortunes to show we are not wasting fortunes.

Did we forget the sensible Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) standard concerning the benefits exceeding the costs of our practices? Is anyone auditing for that while they ensure compliance with procedures that don’t meet this standard? We have the best-equipped military in the world, but it is in spite of our broken ways.

Here’s what my office faces: We have the FAR at approximately 2,000 pages of highly detailed rules; the Defense FARs with about 900 pages; and my agency supplement with 1,300 more. These three layers also include more than 600 regulatory clauses and 100 different procurement forms.

In addition to the rules, there are hundreds of pages of internal office policies; thousands of pages of instructions for our online systems; countless directives, guides, standard operating procedures and other requirements.

Then what we call FNOs (From-Now-Ons) are issued via one to five emails a day — over 500 per year — to continually revise all this. Together, there has to be at least 10,000 pages of ever-changing minutiae, with no means to organize it at all.

Plus, legions of other reviews, approvals and audits appear at various stages of a procurement in endless oversight to make sure all is covered. Our actions, though not large by DoD standards, average 20 to 30 reviews along the way. My own record is 54 reviews for a single, routine contract.

Under these conditions, one to two years to award a single contract is common; the cost becomes even more disturbing. DoD has more than 700,000 civilian positions supporting its approximately 1.4 million uniformed personnel, yet we don’t provide the products and services they need. Contractors mostly do that. We are just facilitating it to the tune of at least $70 billion annually for only the DoD civilian costs that enable the support mainly through contracts.

Let’s have a few capable contracting people from the front lines devote themselves to a FAR rewrite that covers only the essential buying procedures, with no interference. A true FAR rewrite has to eliminate the numerous supplements that add layers of regulation to the main FAR. Not just DoD supplements; all of the federal agencies use the same script.

Next, end the daily changes while demanding why we don’t know what’s required at any given time. The bureaucracy should get one season a year to implement shifts in a somewhat organized way.

Right now, we scrutinize individual contracts more than sweeping changes that impact all contracts. If the shifts were evaluated for mission impact and implementation realities, would we find ourselves in this catastrophe? The policymakers never have to worry about executing contracts through the impediments they create, so they have little incentive.

Let’s hope for something meaningful to fix this mess, and not a Committee on Forming Meaningful Acquisition Reform Committees.

Joe Bednar is a contracting officer with the Defense Logistics Agency.

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