Michael Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association. (Jenifer Morris)
As government agencies now rely primarily on contractors to meet their mission objectives, they must embrace the oversight and management of contractors as a core competency, not as an administrative function buried deep within the management and/or administration office. Mission delivery through external, private-sector, and profit-motivated businesses requires all federal executives and staff to accept their roles in ensuring that contractors properly support the agency’s “customers” as well as its own private business objectives. Immense advances in technology in recent years and the rising prominence of new corporations in our information age replacing those of the industrial age raises the question: How can government acquisition better leverage new methods of communication and technology; and if so, how can it be more effective?
While technology continuously improves our lives in many ways, such as providing new and improved tools to make data more available, functions to perform faster, and communication to be more accurate and responsive, the professional competencies required and goals of government contracting cannot and should not change. These are concepts of fairness, competition, the role of small business, fair and reasonable pricing, ethical standards of conduct, best value, intellectual property, acquisition planning, compliance, etc. There are also business competencies of leadership, economics, accounting, marketing, etc. The terminology of competencies may change, but the competencies themselves will remain.
Technology will shrink cycle and process time (as it must), decrease the gap between customer need and satisfaction, and may improve communication and trust between buyer and seller. However, professional knowledge and skills in managing a government/industry business transaction will always be required and remain fundamental unchanged. They may be altered, as we have seen in the need for improved interpersonal skills and as working with others and within teams becomes more prominent across many disciplines. Skills such as adaptability to change, application of solid judgment in ever-changing and complex circumstances, developing a global perspective and broader understanding in multifunctional competencies as positions consolidate or change, and so on, will become more important than ever. We must all be aware and adjust.
The changing nature of education, training, mentoring, collaborating, and new technologies will continue to challenge us, as they should. But to believe that new technology and changing societal trends in and of themselves allow the disbanding of traditional business motivations and competencies within government contracting refutes history. As they say, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same! In recent years, the political pendulum and trends in government contracting has swung in both directions—ranging from multiple acquisition streamlining initiatives and a reduced workforce and back again (but not all the way). The result hasn’t always worked as intended. New technology in improving the effectiveness of government contracting, such as new forms of social media or new smartphone apps, only provide an improved tool-kit for the inevitable human acquisition decisions and implementation that follows. We can and must use technology smartly, but not rely on it or expect it to get us there on its own!
The government will still need to receive a fair and reasonable price for goods and services acquired with taxpayer funds, under a set of federal statutes and implementing regulations that no one wants removed. Contractors will still need to increase their business base and make a reasonable profit for their owners/stockholders. The government and its contractors are “partners” in achieving this goal, but their motivations and measures of success are different. Contracting in the future may look different in many ways, but fundamentally its purpose will remain as it has since our nation’s founding.