FCW Forum — Acquisition

Baseball and acquisition have a lot in common, for better or worse

Intensified oversight undermines support for procurement staff

Let’s talk baseball — or at least baseball as it relates to federal acquisition.

The acquisition community needs a comeback. Like the recently returned Pedro Martinez, it needs some rehab to get back to the majors.

Let’s imagine that each federal agency is a team. Together, those teams form a league. Each team has an owner or owners, and the league has a head office.

The head office for the federal government resides in Congress. And that head office has changed its name from the House Government Reform Committee to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Normally, an organization’s name change doesn’t affect employees. But because Congress changed the committee’s name and is seemingly focusing its efforts on oversight instead of reform, it has cast a cloud of doubt over the entire league.

Given the intensified focus on oversight, agency leaders are now leery of voicing their support of a contracting officer’s decisions. That would be like team owners not supporting their managers’ decisions. That’s not good baseball, and it’s not good business.

This cloud of doubt goes even higher, to the “replay officials” — the inspectors general and Government Accountability Office. What will these entities do if an agency leader makes a decision they feel is questionable? The focus on oversight has led to more incidents of decision reviews — or instant replays.

The umps “call 'em as they see 'em,” but they can only see some of what has happened. It’s as if the video on an instant replay cut off just as a line drive was nearing the foul pole. Was the hit fair or foul? It’s tough to say when you can only see where the ball landed.

Let’s be clear here: No one is promoting bad acquisition planning. Those on the field try to make good calls — and usually do. Everyone wants a clean and well-played game. The point is that many of the acquisition-focused decision-makers do not have the support they need from their superiors. And Congress has slowed down the acquisition community at a time when the clear signal from the paid attendees — taxpayers — is for government to speed up the process.

To ensure they can be successful, contracting professionals need the training, latitude and support necessary to do their jobs.

  • Contracting officers should be treated fairly, with Congress setting standards that are transparent and, when followed, leave little room for second-guessing.
  • Members of the oversight community should work with the acquisition community as team members — as consultants or advisers instead of evaluators — so they can “see ‘em and call ‘em” in real time.

It is time for Congress to move to the second part of the committee’s responsibility: government reform.

Give the agencies the authority to elevate the acquisition community to professional status. Give them the tools to hire, train and keep training. Remove the oversight fear factor of making a bad decision. Yes, Congress, continue your overall responsibilities of oversight, just let the professionals carry out their assignments.

Believe me, you’ll see a great game that will give the taxpayers their money’s worth.

About the Author

Bill Gormley is president and chief executive officer at the Washington Management Group, a GSA schedule contract and VA schedule contract consulting services firm in Washington.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

Bill - interesting comparison. Like baseball, most of acquisition's woes come from really bad "front office" or management decisions. These decisions make it harder for the players to come together as a team (read acquisition team) and execute their mission effectively. Add about 70 more umpires per game and you have the environment that today's acquisition professionals are laboring in. Unlike baseball, you can't simply send players down to the minor leagues to hone their skills or easily fire managers and owners for their decisions. Anyway, play ball!

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