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Federal contracting's bright side

May. 8, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Fischetti (Jenifer Morris)

Reviewing government contracting trends over time often yields some surprising results. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t.

One result is while the acquisition environment may appear dire in the short run, the overall picture is quite optimistic. For example, while spending increased dramatically during the early 2000s, owing to two of the longest wars in American history, the “severe” drop off in government contracting that started in 2010 leaves spending still almost 40 percent higher than in 2002, adjusted for inflation. Not so bad for the government contractor community!

Of course, contract spending by the Department of Defense dwarfs that of all other agencies combined. Yet, while some agencies have seen significant drops, the overall reduction is mitigated by the huge amount of spending that continues.

Services spending exceeds supplies by 20 percent; reflective of today’s outsourced government. Two-thirds of that spending is consistently competitive. Also, fixed-price contracts (considered the most preferred and least risky over other types, from the government’s view) are slightly up and protests have been in gradual decline. Additionally, incumbent contractors win far fewer awards than they used to. From a taxpayer perspective, these can be viewed as positive trends. Government contracting is open, fair, and competitive!

The past year saw almost complete gridlock between political parties; no budget for three-fourths of 2013 and a 2014 budget with little clear program direction or policy objectives. However, government-contracted services continue to be provided and products delivered, from global humanitarian and military assistance to all forms of healthcare to national parks. Still, when government contracting is mentioned, the general perception is not good.

However, given the overall environment in today’s government, the general picture is quite positive. The system continues to work as intended. Could it be improved? Definitely! However, the goals of the government contracting system are still generally being achieved. Why? Certainly not because of today’s legislative uncertainty; but instead because of the dedication of our contracting and larger acquisition workforce. Contracting will always produce winners and losers. Those losing business, whose program was cut, who protested an award, or who expressed concern regarding difficult requirements or an unfair process—these voices can be louder than those within successful programs, who quietly win awards and perform well against contracts and requirements. In most cases, the contracting process is fair (as designed) and meets the nation’s needs.

Yes, it could be better. Most of today’s issues are solvable and professional contracting officers, program managers, agency and industry executives, and congressional staff are doing just that. Consensus on contracting problems and their solutions has not been reached, but it’s under development. In any event, it will take political courage; leadership; probably resource reallocation, such as education; and, most of all, hard work, perseverance, and tenacity from these same professionals. This may not satisfy those who prefer instantaneous improvement.

Thank you to the many acquisition professionals throughout industry and government, meeting our citizens’ needs by managing under a difficult political and budget environment and within a contracting system designed for fairness as well as effectiveness—working well to meet the unbelievable challenges imposed upon them and for continuously striving to make it even better.

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