Editor's Desk

Guided missile

The credit is most often given to John Glenn, pioneer astronaut and former U.S. senator from Ohio, who, when asked what it felt like awaiting the countdown to his 1962 launch into space history, offered the following:

I felt exactly how you would feel if you… knew you were sitting on top of two million parts -- all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.

The quote may be apocryphal, but that doesn’t diminish its real insight. The idea that competitive and open bidding invariably produces the best results for government and taxpayer alike has been a shibboleth of politicians and media hounds for many years now. Barack Obama the candidate certainly knew a good applause line when he delivered his broadsides against no-bid contracts, performance-based contracts, and acquisition outsourcing. And now President Obama is wasting no time delivering on his pledge to rid the government of “waste and inefficiency” by, among other things, insisting on more fixed-price contracts that guarantee the lowest cost to the taxpayer.

But as acquisition editor Matthew Weigelt reports in this week’s cover story, there’s a more complex problem here than the Obama White House or his clapping followers in Congress and the media allow for. Experts inside and outside of government believe the president is missing the most crucial problems of the federal procurement system, namely the increasing reliance on “task and delivery orders” rather than full contracts, and the incredible burden being placed on an acquisition workforce that is undermanned and undertrained for the tsunami of federal spending to come. (p. 8)

In other words, in their energetic push to “reform” federal procurement, Obama and Co. may be undermining their own need for immediate results and economic stimulus.

Matthew explores the procurement topic in greater depth further back in this issue, showing how a seemingly inoccuous statement in the economic stimulus bill could radically change the way the government does business. (p. 38)

Change, of course, has been Obama’s mantra for two years now. And on the technology front, his administration seems bent on bringing new thinking to the White House and federal agencies alike. His long-awaited announcement of Vivek Kundra to fill the top IT post in the Office of Management and Budget signals a decidedly “open government” approach to policymaking, reports staff writer Mary Mosquera, particularly in the application of Internet practices and principles. (p. 10)

And then there’s the flip side of transparency in government: the need for more storage capacity and flexibility to meet the growing demand for regulatory compliance. Contributing writer John Moore explores the new forces that are affecting enterprise storage operations and the new technologies available to government operations. (p. 26)

The federal procurement system he’s missing some of the most crucial problems plaguing federal procurement, including an explosion in the use of of task and delivery orders rather than full contracts, and a stressed acquisition workforce.

The federal procurement system has been the butt of jokes for a long time now.

And Barack Obama, when he was running for president, certainly knew a good applause line when he delivered his broadsides against “waste and inefficiency” in government.

No wonder, then, that Obama’s announcement last week

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Reader comments

Wed, Mar 11, 2009 Patty DC

If you believe the acquisition workforce is stressed now, eliminate the ability to use multiple award IDIQ's, government-wide acquisition contracts and multiple award schedules and then see what happens. We'll need to double the size of the workforce when every contract action is a full and open procurement.

Tue, Mar 10, 2009 Jason Chantilly, VA

I can agree that there has been an increase in task orders and that the acquisition workforce (AW) is stressed. However, the use of task orders is easier for AW because it limits the pool of potential bidders and until recently, task orders were usually un-protestable. Transparency is virtually non-existent with SeaPort E as an example. Overall competition is compromised, oversight is slight, and the FOIA process overwhelmed, but otherwise AW likes Multiple Award IDIQ's.

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