The Coalition for Government Procurement has long supported common-sense solutions to streamline federal procurement processes, modernize procurement policies, and utilize commercial practices to the maximum extent practicable. Policies and programs that effectively and efficiently leverage the commercial marketplace are essential for the delivery of best value commercial products, services and solutions for federal customers and the American people.
These days, it appears that increasingly the dialogue regarding the condition of the federal acquisition systems has soured, as a seemingly ever-growing inventory of the deficiencies and shortcomings has overtaken the conversation. Indeed, more and more we are told that the procurement process is in crisis, that it is unable to sustain access to innovative technologies, and that it is an obsolete relic of a bygone era.
The inherent reaction to this narrative is the call for the implementation of new reforms — i.e. policies, statutes, and regulations — to completely overhaul the procurement process. Before embracing this conclusion, however, we should reflect upon both the historical context of the procurement process and the lessons we have learned over time.
In particular, it is important to understand how Congress, with the enactment of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) in 1994, has already reformed the procurement system. As recognized by the recently published first volume of the report of the Section 809 Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition (Section 809 Panel), FASA:
The Section 809 Panel, however, also noted that:
In addition, we should consider the testimony on major weapons system acquisition provided in 2013 by Paul Francis of the Government Accountability Office before the House Armed Services Committee.
In his testimony, Paul discussed DoD’s performance in executing these acquisitions, the current policies and processes guiding these acquisitions, and opined that the department should adapt its future reforms so that they better address “… the incentives to deviate from sound acquisition processes.”
Significantly, although GAO had found that past reforms had promoted well-founded management practices, these reforms were not institutionalized by many of the Department’s programs and components because of these “incentives to deviate,” including, but not limited to the conflicting demands, the dynamics of the funding process, and the limited authority of managers. Regarding how its findings should impact the design of future reforms, GAO provided the following:
In light of the forgoing, before strapping dynamite to the procurement system, we would do well to reflect on the incentives inherent to the system, how they can be rebalanced in light of current policy imperatives, and adjust our buying practices, including our rules, accordingly. To do otherwise, risks perpetuating the cycle of reform and re-regulation that we have seen over the decades.
Roger Waldron is president of the Coalition for Government Procurement and brings more than 25 years of government contracting experience, including 20 years with the General Services Administration.