There have been many negative economic, social and societal impacts to the nation resulting from the recently ended federal government shutdown. Among them, the huge delays and back-up in the pipeline of all manner of contractual delays — new awards, modifications, solicitations, requests for information, funding, etc., as well as delivery of product and services based on lost schedule, cost, performance, staff, Antideficiency Act concerns, etc. — are luminous.
Government staff lost a month managing requirements development, source selection, performance monitoring, new awards, contract changes and funding new and existing contracts. Industry firms and their staff lost a month of income, spent inordinate energy managing cash flow and contingency plans. Now they will wait that much longer for RFPs, amendments, modifications and awards to develop, to include the many decisions regarding what ongoing work was performed, whether it was properly authorized and who is liable for what costs during the shutdown.
A typical situation could be accounting for work the contractor elected to perform during the shutdown, without explicit guidance from the government — which didn’t want work to stop, but couldn’t explicitly direct that it continue. Accommodations will be reached, which may meet the spirit, if not specific requirements of procurement rules. The Federal Acquisition Regulation changes clause will be exercised vigorously.
Of longer-term concern is maintaining the viability and integrity of the federal acquisition system over time; of attracting new and retaining existing contractors, especially the “nontraditional” firms government currently covets. Then there is recruiting top talent to support the vital and complex missions government is undertaking. The problems facing the U.S. government now and in the future are widespread, technologically complex, urgent and affect citizen health, welfare, housing, economic vitality and national security. Success and sustainment of a successful American way of life depends on the best talent to be found, which will occur through contractor support.
Acquisition reform and streamlining includes everything from regulatory and statutory relief to improved technology and organizations changes. However, all of that pales by comparison to the vital need for budgetary reform and certainty. No business will work with, nor top talent be attracted to, an uncertain customer where all manner of business, technical and scientific decisions are political in nature. To improve government acquisition, sound fiscal planning and budget execution will do more to attract and retain top professionals, as well as outside firms, than most other changes combined. Any proposals to improve federal acquisition include budgetary reform. Passing appropriations bills on time, based on a predetermined agreed to strategy, would be even better.
Since we’re still on a three-week clock, the acquisition system in many agencies will have less than six months to execute their goals for fiscal 2019. Costs go up, uncertainty increases and the professionals we need to manage these activities deserve better.
If the federal government is to retain global leadership and protect and defend its citizens, we must get our fiscal house in order.
Michael P. Fischetti, LLC is an acquisition instructor for academic and training firms; he holds JD, MS, MA and BA degrees and professional certifications in contracting and association management. Fischetti most recently served as executive director of the National Contract Management Association. He also previously served as a federal acquisition executive and contracting official in defense and civilian agencies.