Michael P. Fischetti is Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association.

The management structure of government procurement, where one of every six federal dollars is spent, has remained generally unchanged for many years, even as the volume and percentage of products and services performed by agencies has evolved to today's outsourced, dependent model. One continuing characteristic of this model is decentralization.

For example, since its creation in 1971, governmentwide acquisition policy responsibility rests with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), residing within OMB. It helps shape the policy and practices governing over $500 billion of annual contract obligations. It does so with a very small budget and staff and relies on interagency cooperation to develop policy and workforce development planning in the form of memos, circulars, guides, or reports. OFPP chairs the FAR Council, consisting of senior procurement executives from GSA, NASA, and DoD (the largest contracting agencies at its creation), to manage cases (changes to the FAR) from civilian and defense agency councils, extensively relying on agency-provided "teams" for assigned subject areas. In addition, OFPP oversees the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), chairing its "board of directors" (agency procurement executives) to ensure training priorities are addressed, including development of a professional acquisition workforce. OFPP's mandate relies on words like "collaborate," or "assist" in describing its role over other civilian agencies. FAI itself has a small staff and relies on other, better-funded agencies, to develop training programs and schools, as well as private contractor-approved providers.

Within the DoD, systems-buying commands acquire weapons—sometimes similar in nature, sometimes not—in the most joint fashion possible. To address what it considered inadequate inter-service cooperation, Congress directed development of the Joint Strike Fighter, which hasn't been without controversy. Similarly, several federal agencies contract for all forms of similar services and common-use items. The GSA intends to provide most or all common use, cross-agency products and services, but not with overall success to date. One exception is in contractor management and oversight, where the DCAA and DCMA can perform similar roles on behalf of all agencies.

When questioned as to why the government doesn't do more in strategic sourcing, vendor management, competition, closer industry engagement, small business, or professional development, everyone looks at OFPP or at agency headquarters. Yet most power and resources rest in the departments and agencies, who are authorized and funded separately, have independent Congressional oversight committees, their own funding authorities, and only occasionally, actual program managers.

Within federal agencies themselves, procurement authority and responsibility is further decentralized. Many senior procurement executives are responsible for acquisition policy, process, and general workforce training and development, but often not acquisition planning, operational execution, staffing and resources, control or performance outcomes, which may rest with program or technical organizations. Procurement executives themselves often fall under a cabinet or agency-level "Office of Management," including finance, human capital, facilities, and other functions not necessarily sensitive to government acquisition.

Government today presumes no knowledge and experience of staff entering into its acquisition workforce. All professional development is funded by each agency, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the available funding, culture, and oversight of that agency. Professional acquisition standards and training are separate but somewhat equal between agencies. Thus, a government contracting officer qualified at "Level 3" in one agency and perhaps holding a "warrant" may be unqualified elsewhere. His industry counterpart may have more, less, similar, or no qualifications at all, depending on the contractor.

For companies doing business with today's government, along with expected differences in agency mission, requirements, users, and relationships, they can also expect considerable agency-unique and special policy, clauses, processes, and deliverables for identical products and services. Policies are not uniform, nor their reaction to similar circumstances.

Organization structure and responsibility, including the push and pull between decentralized and centralized contracting responsibilities, has always existed and no consensus has ever emerged. Most program managers want responsive contracting managers close by and accountable, which may not reflect headquarters or OMB policy. Concurrently, many want the government to take better advantage of its huge buying power, which requires contracting managers to sometimes consider the greater good over specific, individual program needs.

Thus, regardless of Congressional, administration, or agency intent, how authority and resources are distributed ultimately determines performance and results. Who the boss is may be more important than the careful crafting of legislative language, and reviewing today's government contracting model might be a better use of resources.

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