Implementing contracting best practices: The challenge ahead
As the current administration heads to the finish line, political appointees are focusing on leaving a legacy in concrete accomplishments from their agendas. But what can the acquisition community we expect for the remainder of this presidential term?
As the current administration heads to the finish line, with political appointees focused on leaving a legacy of concrete accomplishments from at least part, but not all, of their agenda, what can we expect for the remainder of this presidential term and in the near future?
We know that acquisition change will semi-repeat through authority transfers between users and membership — all owing due to legislative mandates under the National Defense Authorization Act, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, and individual agency authorizations. The administration’s acquisition legacy will likely include initiatives in workforce professionalism, such as wider use of the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s entire tool kit; wider use of and longstanding supply-chain practices, such as strategic sourcing and category management. It will also include the partial restoration of restrictive common-sense communications between government and industry, and a "nuts and bolts," back-to-basics education policy that redevelops fundamental skills in analysis and judgment with the ultimate elusive goal to ensure "critical-thinking skills" throughout the process.
However, finding measurable improvements in significant acquisition program performance indicators or long-lasting cultural progress is difficult for sure. when confronted with the The acquisition workforce faces the continued reality of a risk-averse culture encouraged by multiple levels of post-game quarterbacking; a political climate fixated on punishment; lack of or challenging hiring processes; the incredibly dispersed and uncertain nature of government budgets, oversight, and management execution; and several new Executive Orders affecting socioeconomic goals., finding measurable improvements in significant acquisition program performance indicators or long-lasting cultural progress is difficult for sure.
The federal market continues to shrink in the short-term, along with the diversity of industry choices that supplies those customers. Industry consolidation appears to have run its course in terms of efficiency, and now simply means fewer choices for government managers. Uncertain strategies by government agencies — owed partially to congressional gridlock — challenges agencies and industry to see and prepare for future requirements.
Different or "innovative" approaches, when attempted by contract managers, continue to meet resistance from one community or another, regardless of its form. The "Lowest Price Technically Acceptable Armageddon" hasn’t yet arrived, but neither has a sense of the federal market as a place that offers opportunities for that any mainstream business should seriously consider entering and potentially thrive within. Attempts to bring a fresh outlook and business approach will struggle when faced with the realities of what is expected by government customers.
However, despite this dour perspective, strategically and globally (as well as nationally) significant social, political, cultural, and economic trends are unfolding that will dramatically affect the lives of all citizens and raise the expectations and challenges to our government and its responsiveness. The huge stakes involved with who wins near-term elections; gridlock that continually frustrates program solutions; the effects of an accelerating, technologically disruptive economy; globally influenced trade and business behavior; price and form of energy; tension, instability, and protracted human crises from the South China Sea to the Middle East (indeed all continents); and dramatic climate and ecological change points to the role and proactivity of government increasing, not the other way around (as many politicians may campaign). Whether through humanitarian relief, military engagement, or stepped up research and development, the need for, and results from, effective contracting knowledge, policies, and practices supported by from all levels of government will be mandated by both its leaders and citizens.
How that occurs will require a combination of leadership and strong management pressure from the top, but more important it requires thought-through, informed, and well-executed best-practice planning and implementation from a world-leading, 21st-century acquisition workforce that is up to the challenges of a 21st-century world. These responsibilities cannot be wished or legislated for, nor walled out. From those out front to those "leading from behind," true patriots, persevering in the face of today’s challenges and getting things done despite many of the less-than-bright ideas offered into the discourse by all sides, are present in today’s acquisition workforce, and they will pave the future roads our nation will ride on.
While significant policy change will occur next year regardless of who takes control of various levels of government is an easy prediction to make, those working within today’s contracting community can expect to be called to task to get things done fast and effectively. Within public-sector contracting, all its many constituencies define that success differently and — almost never achieving true consensus. That’s why it is more challenging, and yet ultimately more rewarding.
Strategic sourcing and category management are not difficult concepts to grasp, but it takes very effective leadership to make them work in the public sector. As in all business, there are winners and losers. "Where you stand depends on where you sit." Recent moves to implement more traditional supply-chain solutions practiced worldwide can’t be disagreed with, but must be tailored to the reality of the U.S. federal government. The contracting community didn’t design the government, but must align good business practices to succeed within it. From tThe legislature, to executive authorities (federal, state, and local), to their contractors and trade associations — all have their role, mission, and interpretation of acquisition success. If only it were as simple as buying faster/cheaper/better, perhaps this conversation wouldn’t be never-ending.
Michael P. Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association. His earlier federal career includes time at the Defense and Energy departments, and the General Services Administration.
Further politicization of appointments could lead to a Pentagon that games appointments in the fourth year of an administration or selects separate slates of general officers according to the anticipated preferences of the winning candidate.