Acquisition challenges and hurdles, both external and internal, within one’s control or not—and whether financial, structural, organizational, regulatory, programmatic, etc.—can be great and potentially overwhelming. There are many variables that can impede, if not derail, program execution and progress. This, while unfortunate, is the reality of working in today’s complex, highly scrutinized system.
Acquisition managers are often the messengers of bad news; they’re the “pointy end of the spear” of an environment involving many variables outside their control—but also much within their influence. Many constituencies believe more could be done if the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) were modified. However, it is clear to most with the knowledge and experience, that while the FAR limits some actions, it actually permits much, much more. Most contract managers will recall being taught that unless an action is expressly prohibited by the FAR, it is allowable.
Today, acquisition customers and those who advocate changing the process should understand this concept and not accept responses that shift responsibility to existing processes or regulations. Those working in acquisition today have a simple duty to provide creative and innovative solutions based on many various alternatives and strategies available—which is almost anything not clearly illegal or immoral by most standards. Acquisition managers have a duty, when given a requirement, desired outcome, and recommended approach, to reply not with rationale as to why that particular approach is unworkable or not feasible, but instead to respond proactively with a recommended approach that meets the customer’s needs—including the pros, cons, and tradeoffs involved.
Today’s acquisition environment requires creativity, innovative approaches, and open-mindedness. As in all business endeavors, the acquisition process works when innovative managers work collaboratively to find ways to get things done: defining solutions and the art of the possible. Conversely, it does not work when one or both parties lament the difficulties of the undertaking—why one or more environmental factors or proposed solutions are beyond their responsibility or role, criticizing different approaches, or sending everything “back to the drawing board” with vague and unactionable direction for rework under a siloed, “not my department” culture.
The factors that have repeatedly advanced our nation and historically developed and maintained its preeminent economy include the uncanny ability and nature of American entrepreneurial-oriented business leaders that constantly look for different and more effective approaches, display a tenacity and goal-oriented perseverance, and more recently a team-oriented nature that puts all ideas on the table. This spirit (and not regulatory encouragement) is what defines a successful government acquisition from one that is not. Whether developing, awarding, or managing contracts under the authority of a particular statute, the FAR, state or local procurement code, or the Uniform Commercial Code, having the involvement of the right-minded people is what gets things done. Acquisition success depends not on expending energy by developing rationale for not moving forward, but instead spending the limited resources and human capital available on the important criteria necessary for success.
While this philosophy is already embodied and documented in the FAR, perhaps the cover page should lead off with a simple statement prohibiting all acquisition managers from responding “no, because…” in favor of a required “yes, if…” response. These few simple words seem understandable enough, but they represent the crux of government program success.