GSA official tackles slow policy review process

Acquisition officials looking closely at areas of procurement process to ensure smooth-running system.

The process of amending the government's acquisition regulations runs too slowly for Kathleen Turco, the General Services Administration’s former chief financial officer.

Now, as GSA's associate administrator for governmentwide policy, Turco wants to apply the same tough deadlines to regulatory reform proposals that budget officials face for closing their financial books on time.

In her new job, Turco was frustrated by the process of changing the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which has often taken years to approve an amendment.


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“I said, ‘Golly, what’s the heck is going on here,’ ” Turco said in an interview Feb. 14. “In the government, we spend a lot of time thinking and contemplating.”

So, on Feb. 9, she gathered together inside one room senior leaders and government policy experts from GSA, the Defense Department, NASA, and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to host a Martha Johnson-style “slam.”

Johnson, the GSA administrator, brought slams to government. She has led a number of the atypical government meetings where people talk about pertinent issues. Some slams have been described as rowdy and intense and others as polite and orderly. But in all the meetings, the participants are put on the same level to debate the issue at hand and no one leaves until the group reaches the specific goal.

The objective of Turco's slam was to improve the process for reforming procurement regulations. And from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., policy analysts and senior regulatory officials, including Linda Neilson, deputy director for defense acquisition regulations system and chairwoman for the Defense Acquisition Regulatory Council, and administration officials, including Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, debated possible fixes to the eight long steps to changing the FAR.

By the end of the day, they broke down the snags into three areas that need attention.

Officials found that the structure by which teams of analysts write and review regulatory proposals are out of date and rigid, Turco said. They need to be flexible to adjust to the changing demands of agencies. NASA officials will bring back a new proposal for improving the structure by March 31.

The slam also uncovered problems with managing cases. Acquisition officials need to quickly resolve issues and make critical policy decisions. Until officials make their decisions, so much of the procurement process is caught in limbo and it hinders the people working in the procurement field, from contracting officers to government contractors. Turco said DOD officials will propose a fix for the issue by March 31.

Turco and her staff at GSA will deal with the issue of training that is affecting agencies’ procurement policy offices.

At the slam, analysts’ experience ranged from 35 years to seven months. Turco wants to tap the knowledge of the experienced policy analysts to help the newer analysts. In the future, she would like to see a rotation from the contracting offices to the policy offices, so employees can get a feel for writing policy. Right now though, she has to address the learning curve of employees who are new to the policy-writing offices, especially as more experienced workers retire. Her deadline too is March 31.

The FAR Council, which includes executives from DOD, GSA, and NASA and is led by Gordon, will make the final decisions about the proposals.

While some FAR cases have been sitting the queue for several years awaiting a decision, Turco expects the slam will yield a system that can address cases much faster.

“We’re going to reassess this,” she said.

She’s confident, too. As CFO, she made her staff of more than 200 people start moving faster to meet the closeout deadline.

“I think I can move 15 people and a couple more at DOD,” she said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Sun, Feb 20, 2011 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

The slam process is forced collaboration. Although a useful tool, it sounds like the process is ripe for overhaul and implementing a better solution if capturing institutional knowledge through crowd-sourcing. Collaboration is critical to information exchange, and this seems to be the real cause of many of the problems. Having expanded opportunities to communicate faster and more broadly can only help improve an antiquated system that no slams can ever solve.

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 Larry Allen

The FAR process does need some attention, but GSA can only control so much of it. NASA, DOD and OMB all have roles as well. One of the biggest problems that got the FAR process off track was the rapid turnover of experienced hands, especially at GSA. A lot of experience walked out the door in 2009 and 2010. No process can continue to move smoothly with that amount of turnover. Now that GSA is paying attention to the process, it would be very good to know what priority the other FAR Council members are placing on this process. SLAM or not, if your other three players aren't stepping up, not much will change.

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