Opinions

Can states teach the feds about procurement?

Michael Fischetti is executive director of the National Contract Management Association.

Having recently attended an event by the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO), one is struck by the alignment of the issues, conversations, and knowledge areas across different sectors. There is much these days that supply chain, state, local, and federal communities could learn from each other. Yet real or perceived organizational, logistical, and cultural differences persist, limiting the identification of problems within one community or another, as well as potential solutions. The challenge is to look beyond norms and see opportunities across sectors and even nations. The following are basic principles incorporated into the American Bar Association's state and local "Model Procurement Code":

1. Competition

2. Ethics

3. Predictability (stability, advanced publication, accountability)

4. Clear Statements of Procurement Needs

5. Equal Treatment of Bidders/Offerors

6. Methods of Source Selection

7. Bid/Proposal Evaluation

8. Reduction in Transaction Costs for Public- and Private-Sector Entities

9. Procurement of Construction-Related Services

10. Remedies

11. Facilitation of Intergovernmental Transactions (Cooperative Procurements)

The terminology, while slightly different, easily aligns with the federal level. For example, category management, a long-time concept in retailing and procurement, is a new buzzword within federal acquisition. Everybody that services that market is quickly designing new or existing courses and events around it. One conclusion is that some of today's best new initiatives can be drawn from what is already known to work somewhere else. The wheel isn't being reinvented. Perhaps the most important aspect is the development of technology that allows for more effective communication.

It's unfortunate that not enough communication occurs between sectors. Many agencies and companies consider themselves unique. Larger, complex procurement offices can convince themselves they are superior in expertise for specific acquisition services and commodities. Therefore, they're not open to learning from smaller organizations they consider to be less significant.

Smaller agencies (or states, localities, or companies) can conversely believe themselves unable to follow great ideas from larger, better-resourced organizations of prominence and stature, believing they don't have the deep pockets or expertise necessary. Either way, mixing of ideas, best practices, or even movement of professionals between the various sectors and communities is unnecessarily limited.

Of course, everyone internally has to be receptive, involved, and responsible for executing new ideas, which may involve giving something up. Again, with the example of category management, meaningful achievement of higher goals can occur, but not without fundamental government change, including how agency budgets are developed and distributed. This includes significant buy-in from Congress and senior agency officials. This might conflict with other competing goals. The challenge is great, but examples of successful application can be found, particularly where special circumstances existed.

Other methods of looking outside the box go beyond traditional professional offices, networks, communities, and professions within existing organizations. "Not in my backyard" internal finger-pointing at the contracting officer, program manager, training institutions, instructors, budget officials, requirement's generators, budget officials, contractors, trade groups, regulations, statutes, Congress, etc., throws responsibility over the fence to others and doesn't move the needle. "All of the above" are responsible for improvement.

A controversial set of recent articles in Contract Management magazine having to do with the gap between acquisition leadership versus others' perception of existing contracting workforce quality and skill gaps exemplifies this and helps to explain why it occurs. The leaders of acquisition staff are also accountable, along with those in related fields and far beyond, to include those who promulgate a continuing stream of laws and rules that can't be properly executed, those not open to change, those critical of the process for self-serving reasons, and all who are unwilling to look outside the box. This includes looking across the federal environment as well as the thousands of commercial, state, and local entities that face similar challenges.

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