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Contracting facts and fictions

Jun. 3, 2014 - 04:07PM   |  
Michael Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association.
Michael Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association. (Jenifer Morris)

Many debates on the issues in government acquisition rely on assumed “facts” that may or may not be based on reality. However, examining the latest actual, comprehensive, uniform, and unbiased information directly provided by contracting officers (from the Federal Procurement Data System) sheds light on some discrepancies. For example, despite the budget drama of the past two years, inflation-adjusted figures reveal that contract awards remain over 20 percent higher in 2013 than back in 2003. For the contracting profession, this news is encouraging, especially considering the wind-down of the longest war in American history and indicative of the continued increase in government contracting in providing essential citizen services.

Similarly, while awards have dropped within the General Services Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, other agencies—such as the Department of Education, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have seen increases, as have contracts awarded to small businesses. Despite the perceived harshness of the contracting environment, competition for government awards remains steady, not in decline. The number of solicitations has increased, not decreased. The number of protests filed are down, not up. Awards to incumbents have declined significantly, not increased. Also, while the use of GSA Schedules by contracting officers has declined significantly over the past three years, their use of multiple award contracts (e.g., GWACs and MACs) has increased. This could be indicative of contracting officers’ determinations of the best vehicles to obtain fair and reasonable pricing, terms and conditions.

Regarding staffing, while hiring has been in continuous decline since 2009, the total numbers of “1102” contract managers has been increasing and the average dollars obligated per 1102 has been dropping; yet still remaining over 1/3 higher than before the huge increases of the past decade. Finally, the weighted index of stocks representing performance of the largest government contracting companies—as measured by the S&P 500—has recovered any losses prior to the government shutdown and has continuously increased to all-time highs.

From these figures, all of which come from the National Contract Management Association’s “2013 Annual Review of Government Contracting,” one must conclude that the big picture of government contracting today and in the future will remain a tremendously significant aspect of efficient government delivery of citizen services. While there is considerable room for improvement, the policies and processes of government contracting run well and as intended. The profession thus remains viable, healthy, and poised for continued future growth, regardless of political party and changing program priorities.

It is important to understand and analyze the facts, data, and trends actually occurring before defining what the problems are—let alone developing their solutions. Since this data was only very recently available, it stands to reason that many of the “problems” requiring resolution or “reform” may not always conform to the reality. Our acquisition professionals working in the trenches of these issues every day should be consulted to ensure everyone’s views are heard, along with that reality on the ground.

Government contracting is a large, complex undertaking—with many stakeholders with a variety of perspectives—and one that our taxpayers and citizens depend on for many basic government services. Let’s make sure we separate the “facts” from fiction of this often discussed, debated, and emotionally charged subject to ensure any future modifications improve the situation far better than many of the changes implemented in the past.

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